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Moon Supercomputing Science

A Supercomputer On the Moon To Direct Deep Space Traffic 166

Posted by samzenpus
from the red-moon-green-moon dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "NASA currently controls its deep space missions through a network of 13 giant antennas in California, Spain and Australia known as the Deep Space Network (DSN) but the network is obsolete and just not up to the job of transmitting the growing workload of extra-terrestrial data from deep space missions. That's why Ouliang Chang has proposed building a massive supercomputer in a deep dark crater on the side of the moon facing away from Earth and all of its electromagnetic chatter. Nuclear-powered, it would accept signals from space, store them, process them if needed and then relay the data back to Earth as time and bandwidth allows. The supercomputer would run in frigid regions near one of the moon's poles where cold temperatures would make cooling the supercomputer easier, and would communicate with spaceships and earth using a system of inflatable, steerable antennas that would hang suspended over moon craters, giving the Deep Space Network a second focal point away from earth. As well as boosting humanity's space-borne communication abilities, Chang's presentation at a space conference (PDF) in Pasadena, California also suggests that the moon-based dishes could work in unison with those on Earth to perform very-long-baseline interferometry, which allows multiple telescopes to be combined to emulate one huge telescope. Best of all the project has the potential to excite the imagination of future spacegoers and get men back on the moon."
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A Supercomputer On the Moon To Direct Deep Space Traffic

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  • by nospam007 (722110) * on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:33PM (#41650751)

    Aren't they afraid it will launch rocks at the earth if it achieves self-awareness?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:38PM (#41650797)
    Leave the computing power here on Earth, where it can easily be installed, repaired, and upgraded as necessary without budget-busting missions. Put a simple relay station on the moon if you feel it's necessary. Put two - one primary, once backup. Good god.
    • by Unnngh! (731758)
      Isn't he proposing a hyped-up relay station (I have not RTFA)? Even a relay station with just the relay capabilities is going to need a decent amount of processing power. "Supercomputer" is hopelessly vague, but it will have to operate autonomously to relay a large amount of traffic, and be radiation-hardened and able to operate in near-0K temperatures. Probably more ambitious than any other computer we have launched out of our gravity well, but then again probably only by an order of magnitude or so.
    • by tloh (451585)

      Agreed. Why on Earth (haha) would you locate such equipment where you'd have to expend energy and fuel going in and out of a gravity well to service and maintain it? As another alternative, wouldn't it be feasible to have it at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points?

    • Maybe we can re-use some parts from the Ark.
      The Ark, a Cybertronian spacecraft, crash lands on the dark side of Earth's Moon.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformers:_Dark_of_the_Moon [wikipedia.org]
      http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4LNd6xGAnII/TgqIiaIn4xI/AAAAAAAAByk/M1Rc35s_BsQ/s1600/transformers-dark-of-the-moon-original.jpg [blogspot.com]
    • by Mabhatter (126906)

      We just pack up a bunch of clones to keep it repaired. Unpack them every few years as necessary.

    • by robot256 (1635039)

      "Simple relay" doesn't begin to describe what is actually necessary to do what he is suggesting. To truly upgrade the Deep Space Network we need something capable of processing terabytes a day from a variety of existing and yet-to-be launched spacecraft. Not only would it need to buffer all this data until a wide-bandwidth path to Earth opens up, scientists would likely offload a great deal of compression and even science processing to the supercomputer on the moon so that we never have to download the ra

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      Leave the computing power here on Earth, where it can easily be installed, repaired, and upgraded as necessary without budget-busting missions. Put a simple relay station on the moon if you feel it's necessary. Put two - one primary, once backup. Good god.

      Put the damned computer on the far side of the moon. Let it crunch the raw data and phone home the summaries, it'll save bandwidth. If we need the raw data, just tell it 'Send us Batch 19725/B/alpha/9' and be done with it. For upgrades, build a fucking chip factory in orbit, you won't have to lift against gravity and spend $25,000/kilo, it'll already be halfway to the moon. And yeah, put a manned base on Farside along with the 'scopes.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        The thing about research is you don't always know what you are looking for in the raw data until you see it.
        See also my sig for a summary of the raw image data of a face and two upraised arms for an example.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:41PM (#41650819)
    Perhaps this computer will be 3D printed as well, and powered by privately launched solar arrays? I mean, if you're going delusional, might as well go full out. The nurses don't mind either way, they just up your dose of Haloperidol.
    • Instead of a supercomputer wouldn't it make more sense to use clouding computing to crowd-source the power? Then they just need to put a media consumer device on the moon.

      • My sarcasm detector must be going bad, because I actually thought you were serious.
      • by rvw (755107) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @03:58PM (#41651399)

        Instead of a supercomputer wouldn't it make more sense to use clouding computing to crowd-source the power? Then they just need to put a media consumer device on the moon.

        The moon does not have an atmosphere, so clouds don't exist there. Ergo - no cloud computing! Sorry!

      • And the computing output would be # of devices on the moon divided by number of media consumers on the moon....DIV BY ZERO....
  • Chatter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:41PM (#41650821)

    > in a deep dark crater on the side of the moon facing away from Earth and all of its electromagnetic chatter

    Great... so the one good place we could put radio telescopes because they are shielded from chatter is now ruined because there is a big-ass transmitter.

    • by Artifakt (700173)

      So we put the relay gear near the north pole and the radio telescopes near the south pole.

  • That would be incredible thing to do. I bet it would be interesting to use its idle time to projects like SETI.
  • I am all for going back to the moon. I'm all for placing a permanent station on the moon. Let's really study what's up there. Let's make an attempt at actually studying space from space.
  • Its why the shuttles ran off of 386's, and the current mars rover uses something kin to a 233mhz G3, now all of a sudden we can stick a super-computer on the moon? Set aside the repair bill when it blows something, how many radiation hardened super-computers are available, and more importantly how old are they?

    • Those are not real difficulties. The computing centre would be underground, that provides excellent radiation shielding. Computer just needs to survive transportation (when it will not be running) once. much simpler than the shuttle. You don't repair anything, just send a bit extra and apply fail-in-place maintenance strategy... What would be really cool is if they plan to operate at a natural temp... they could be designed for exploit superconduction... maybe the computer would be completely different
      • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @03:14PM (#41651107)

        Those are not real difficulties. The computing centre would be underground, that provides excellent radiation shielding. Computer just needs to survive transportation (when it will not be running) once. much simpler than the shuttle. You don't repair anything, just send a bit extra and apply fail-in-place maintenance strategy... What would be really cool is if they plan to operate at a natural temp... they could be designed for exploit superconduction... maybe the computer would be completely different from earthbound designs.

        So you're advocating for a radically different, first-of-its-kind computer to be installed in a place that's almost impossible to get to.

        Yeah, I'm sure that'll work out well.

        • Good point. I think the post was saying two things: 1) radiation shielding & repair strategies are not a big deal (we already use Fail-in-place to not touch systems for X year life cycles, for things like containerized data centres, or supercomputers.) 2) the unique environment allows some new choices...

          I think 1) is pretty solid. 2) is more admittedly quite a bit more speculative... why bother with 2? well according to this: http://www.academia.edu/1328244/SuperGreen_Computing_Superconducting_ [academia.edu]
        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          Those are not real difficulties. The computing centre would be underground, that provides excellent radiation shielding. Computer just needs to survive transportation (when it will not be running) once. much simpler than the shuttle. You don't repair anything, just send a bit extra and apply fail-in-place maintenance strategy... What would be really cool is if they plan to operate at a natural temp... they could be designed for exploit superconduction... maybe the computer would be completely different from earthbound designs.

          So you're advocating for a radically different, first-of-its-kind computer to be installed in a place that's almost impossible to get to.

          Yeah, I'm sure that'll work out well.

          What do you mean, 'nearly impossible to get to'? Apollo orbited the moon, passing regulary over the far side. The only reason NASA never landed a manned expedition there is because there were radio blackouts due to the big fuckin rock in the way, aka, the Moon. We got there before. We ought to go back. And stay.

  • The Big Ear (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shawnhcorey (1315781) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:45PM (#41650853) Homepage
    I always thought that putting a radio-telescope on the back side of the moon would be a good idea since the moon would block all the electromagnetic noise from Earth. Two could be installed, one just over the curve near the north pole and one near the south pole. This would give a baseline of appropriately the diameter of the moon. It would be one, big ear.
    • by tyrione (134248)

      I always thought that putting a radio-telescope on the back side of the moon would be a good idea since the moon would block all the electromagnetic noise from Earth. Two could be installed, one just over the curve near the north pole and one near the south pole. This would give a baseline of appropriately the diameter of the moon. It would be one, big ear.

      Agreed. Then again, you've clearly not taken the advice of all the pseduo-Einsteins and pseudo-Tesla engineers on this site for they know what's best.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:46PM (#41650867) Journal

    Maybe also build a big catapult.

  • Cold? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Quinn_Inuit (760445) <Quinn_Inuit@@@yahoo...com> on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:50PM (#41650919)
    I thought heat-sinking in near-vacuum conditions was difficult because, although it's very cold temperature-wise, the ability of the "air" to hold heat is so limited that you can't move very much away.
    • by Haxagon (2454432)

      I think the idea is to use the actual mass of the moon to cool, not the vacuum of space.

      • Is the mass of the moon that conductive (unlike earth)?

        • by Haxagon (2454432)

          Perhaps not. This is a very poorly-thought out idea, and definitely not a complete one.

          I personally don't think that this specific idea is ever going to be feasible, but the general idea of using the moon as secondary hub for a large scale, interbodied military/scientific/navigation network isn't going to be feasible for at least twenty-five years at the earliest, and probably more than thirty. I feel like most of the investment in information is going to be confined to Earth until the hardened technology u

          • You're probably right. I don't see how we get something like this till we have at least a medium-sized permanent moon base with a data center buried deep enough in the regolith or underlying rock to be reasonably safe from cosmic ray interference. And I still don't think you can use the lunar "atmosphere" for any sort of heat sinking, in any case. For the record, though, IANA Astrophysicist.
            • I think the reality is if we had the capability to do anything like this, then we'd actually have the capability to stick it all at Lagrange points, and run enough space missions that repair/refuel/replacement were not such a big deal.

      • What about ALW? Anthropic Lunar Warming.
        • What about ALW? Anthropic Lunar Warming.

          Liberal propaganda. Everyone knows that ALW is really the only thing keeping the next Lunar Glaciation at bay.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      Is there a way to convert heat into lots of IR at a useful rate?
  • Let's take it out of all the EM chatter on the earth, and instead put it inside of all the EM chatter from the SUN. That sounds like a pretty good idea.
  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:51PM (#41650929) Journal

    The supercomputer would run in frigid regions near one of the moon's poles where cold temperatures would make cooling the supercomputer easier

    Actually that is NOT what the article says. I know on slashdot that us commenters rarely read the article but things are getting pretty bad if not even the submitter reads the article!

    The reason for locating it at the poles (as the article explains) is due to the availability of water ice for cooling. You stick it in a deep crater there to provide a stable thermal environment i.e. you avoid having to design a system to cope with both the heat during the day and the cold at night. The reason this is important is because vacuum is a fantastic insulator so, despite it being cold, the only way to lose that heat is via radiation which is not very fast (this is why thermos flasks use vacuum as an insulator). The presence of water ice means that you can use it to transport the heat away from the the computer.

    • the only way to lose that heat is via radiation which is not very fast (this is why thermos flasks use vacuum as an insulator).

      Actually, the thermos relies on two features, either of which being compromised would significantly degrade the entire system. You got the first one, vacuum, which is great at not conducting. The second one is to choose a material that does not emit well - vacuum is practically transparent to radiation...

      Reflective coatings are great for this, Black coatings.. not so much.... What you pick depends on the temperatures and the temperature difference you want to maintain.

      LN2 dewars tend to be steel - it's o

  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @02:53PM (#41650943) Homepage

    A supercomputer? On the moon? To relay deep space traffic? Gee I can only imagine how many tens of billions that will cost. Not like something couldn't be built on the earth for a fraction of the cost and complexity. Why is NASA even the one to run and build what amounts to a telecommunications network? They should be farming this out to industry.

    • I can only imagine how many tens of billions that will cost.

      Just get a google datacenter up there and have them pay rent to NASA.

      Soon you'll have Microsoft trying to follow, while a privatized space-launcher shoots up new techies and supercomputers.

      Economical crisis averted, jobcreation as long we whip our globally our creditcards and click adwords.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @03:04PM (#41651037) Homepage

    It's a lame excuse for a "man in space" pork program. There's not much data coming back from space beyond Earth orbit, because there isn't that much hardware beyond Earth orbit. Right now, only Voyager I, Cassini, and the Mars rover are transmitting. The total data rate from all of them would fit over a dial-up line.

    There are some bottlenecks in dealing with all the stuff in earth orbit. More satellites in the TDRSS [wikipedia.org] system, or more ground stations, may be needed. Assets on the Moon wouldn't help.

    • by adri (173121)

      Really? Do you know what the uplink rate from the rover actually is? Hint. it's not 9600bps anymore.

      • by Animats (122034)

        Really? Do you know what the uplink rate from the rover actually is? Hint. it's not 9600bps anymore.

        NASA says 12Kb/s back to Earth [nasa.gov] Rover to orbiter is 128Kb/s, but that's then spooled slowly back over the long-range data link.

        • Really? Do you know what the uplink rate from the rover actually is? Hint. it's not 9600bps anymore.

          NASA says 12Kb/s back to Earth [nasa.gov] Rover to orbiter is 128Kb/s, but that's then spooled slowly back over the long-range data link.

          And 100% of that bandwidth is spoken for at any given time, and has to built to the limitations of what NASA is working with at the time. There's no point building a rover with 100 mbit transmit capacity if there's no possible way to have the infrastructure on Earth to receive it when you launch.

          If we had more deep space bandwidth, then you'd probably be surprised to find that there's any number of things we could do with it.

          • by Animats (122034)

            And 100% of that bandwidth is spoken for at any given time,

            Right. The limitation is the power at the transmit end, not a bottleneck at the receive end.

        • by adri (173121)

          And that's a single Mars uplink. And there's a lot of data processing on the receive side of the deep space network. It's not just a normal modem.

          Maybe a bunch of orbiting deep space network telescope antennas? Well, they're very _big_. Likely bigger than any single dish that we've attached to something in space before.

          Besides, it would be good to get experience with this kind of stuff..

        • by adri (173121)

          ... also, that was for spirit and opportunity.

          Curiousity is different:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity_rover [wikipedia.org]

          "Curiosity can communicate with Earth directly at speeds up to 32 kbit/s, but the bulk of the data transfer should be relayed through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey orbiter. Data transfer speeds between Curiosity and each orbiter may reach 2 Mbit/s and 256 kbit/s, respectively, but each orbiter is only able to communicate with Curiosity for about eight minutes per day.[32]"

          and [32]

  • it's a space sta^h^h^h datacenter.

  • Go ahead (Score:4, Funny)

    by mrjb (547783) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @03:29PM (#41651221)
    Go ahead, put it out there. But remember... Finders keepers losers weepers.
  • What's the advantage of landing a bunch of computers on the moon? Also, it's much easier to get a high bandwidth signal to an Earth satellite (including on the moon), so why would we want to process the data there with computers that will quickly become obsolete instead of just creating a simple and reliable relay station?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      What's the advantage of landing a bunch of computers on the moon? Also, it's much easier to get a high bandwidth signal to an Earth satellite (including on the moon), so why would we want to process the data there with computers that will quickly become obsolete instead of just creating a simple and reliable relay station?

      it makes for a wackier story.

  • Given the moon's 28.5 day rotation, wouldn't a single antenna on the far side of the moon be blocked from any particular deep-space target for significant periods of time? On the order of two weeks out of every month? So you'd need at least a couple of these in order to avoid the problem.
  • by opusman (33143) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @04:05PM (#41651435) Homepage

    A story about super computers and not one comment about a Beowulf Cluster??

  • How about we build a FAKE moon instead, that we can move and rotate to wherever we want. We may have to bring in the DoD on this to get funding, and... they may want to test a giant laser on it. In fact this may become a DoD project completely due to funding shortages, but they have promised us we will get some time on their supercomputer, when they are not firing their laser at things.

  • I realize human's will usually prefer 'instant gratification', but... Shouldn't we hold off on these great ideas until we have a fully capable moon base up and running. Hell, once we've established that (and worked out all the unforseen problems of a moon base), it will make lots of these ideas more feasible and cheaper to perform.
  • by XB-70 (812342) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @04:37PM (#41651629)
    Will it transmit Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in a never-ending loop?
  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @05:05PM (#41651799)

    Why do you need a "supercomputer" to "process" and relay signals?

    How are "processed" signals going to get to earth from a station on the dark side of the moon without a line of sight back to earth?

    • by adri (173121)

      Because there's significant signal processing going on with the received signals. And they're different based on the different ages of the spacecraft.

      I suggest doing a little digging into what JPL and NASA do on the receive side.

  • How exactly does spending (high) three digit billions (at the very least) to build this system rather than (low) double digit billions to replace/upgrade the existing system make any sense whatsoever?

    Not to mention that even with steerable antennas on the farside, this system won't replace the 24/7 communications capability currently available.

  • ... the L4 [wikipedia.org] and L5 [wikipedia.org] points.

  • Good luck on getting Netapp/IBM/HDS/EMC agree to cost-free replacement on site in less than four hours.

  • OK, so the moon is yellow now and all satellites will have to stop when it turns red?
  • I can see some cheezy James Bond plot being executed where Larry Elison launches a space shuttle from his evil island lair and installs Oracle on it.

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