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ISS Space HP

SpaceX Will Deliver The First Supercomputer To The ISS (hpe.com) 98

Slashdot reader #16,185, Esther Schindler writes: "By NASA's rules, not just any computer can go into space. Their components must be radiation hardened, especially the CPUs," reports HPE Insights. "Otherwise, they tend to fail due to the effects of ionizing radiation. The customized processors undergo years of design work and then more years of testing before they are certified for spaceflight." As a result, the ISS runs the station using two sets of three Command and Control Multiplexer DeMultiplexer computers whose processors are 20MHz Intel 80386SX CPUs, right out of 1988. "The traditional way to radiation-harden a spacecraft computer is to add redundancy to its circuits or by using insulating substrates instead of the usual semiconductor wafers on chips. That's expensive and time consuming. HPE scientists believe that simply slowing down a system in adverse conditions can avoid glitches and keep the computer running."

So, assuming the August 15 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch goes well, there will be a supercomputer headed into space -- using off-the-shelf hardware. Let's see if the idea pans out. "We may discover a set of parameters with which a supercomputer can successfully run for at least a year without errors," says Dr. Mark R. Fernandez, the mission's co-principal investigator for software and SGI's HPC technology officer. "Alternately, one or more components of the system will fail, in which case we will then do the typical failure analysis on Earth. That will let us learn what to change to make the systems more reliable in the future."

The article points out that the New Horizons spacecraft that just flew past Pluto has a 12MHz Mongoose-V CPU, based on the MIPS R3000 CPU. "You may remember its much faster ancestor: the chip that took you on adventures in the original Sony PlayStation, circa 1994."
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SpaceX Will Deliver The First Supercomputer To The ISS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 13, 2017 @03:47PM (#55003967)

    If you look at the ISS webcam when it switches to the interior cam, there's a few laptops (one running Ubuntu) tied to the sides of the walls.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Those laptops aren't running life support systems.

    • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @05:17PM (#55004279)

      If you look at the ISS webcam when it switches to the interior cam, there's a few laptops (one running Ubuntu) tied to the sides of the walls.

      The laptops don't run any essential systems directly. The 80386SX variants they're talking about control lifesystems. The laptops are for user interfaces and monitoring. There's somewhere around 80 of them on board the station, between station interfaces and payload interfaces. In 2013, a bunch of them were migrated to Linux, specifically Debian 6, according to reports. They used to run Windows NT and XP. The article is a press release written to overemphasize the hardened CPUs, which are by far the minority on board, to make this experimental launch of a pair of HP Apollo pc40s seem more impressive than it is.

      Information about the reliability of the laptops is damn hard to find. I'm guessing NASA signed some sort of agreement with IBM to prevent publication of such information. IBM had the exclusive right to fly laptops to the US side of the space station for years, and Lenovo retained that right for some time. It was only recently that they lost it and NASA selected HP to provide the newest laptops.

      Random forum posts from people involved indicate that the laptops crash with monotonous regularity. I suspect they would be a lot more stable if they had ECC RAM with aggressive scrubbing, but laptops with ECC RAM didn't exist until 2015 when Lenovo finally released a laptop with a Xeon in it. Odds are that none of the laptops on the ISS right now have ECC RAM.

      These two HP Apollo modules do have ECC RAM. They're Broadwell core Xeon CPUs with 12 DDR4 DIMM slots and up to 4 nVidia Tesla P100 boards in them. Either the linked article is crap, or the Apollo units don't have any Teslas installed, because the article says their "speed is over 1 TeraFLOP", which is pretty feeble. With 4 P100s in them, each Apollo should be able to produce ~38 single-precision TeraFLOPS. The article is very poor, but at a guess, the P100 boards are not installed for cooling reasons. As it is, they're having to include a liquid cooling cabinet for them, because air cooling doesn't behave too well in microgravity. Either that or the P100s are installed, the liquid cooling can handle them, and the article is garbage. Between the ECC RAM and underclocking the CPUs, they're hoping these machines can run long enough between crashes to be useful.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 13, 2017 @05:36PM (#55004329)

        Ive put a lot of hardware on ISS. Have a few systems going tomorrow on Spx12 actually so I have a bit of inside info here. I asked at a flight qualification panel about this a few years ago and was told that to date, no cots cpu hardware has experienced either an SEI or had problems due to TID. Apparently the biggest problems experienced were infant mortality on thinkpads that went up in 2010ish, but the same failures existed terrestrially so it was linked to a bad lot of HDs.

        Thus far, weve had beaglebones, raspberry pis, and a few odroids running on station for years and havent seen a single problem.

        LEO isnt really a hostile environment for silicon.

        • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @05:26AM (#55006667)

          I asked at a flight qualification panel about this a few years ago and was told that to date, no cots cpu hardware has experienced either an SEI or had problems due to TID.

          I'm not too surprised that lattice displacement damage has been minimal. While the station has been up there for a lot of years now, the laptops in use have been rotated out quite regularly. After all, they started with Thinkpad 700 series, which were 80486s of various flavors. Routine upgrades have been sufficient to avoid total ionizing doses big enough to be noticeable.

          I'm astonished to hear that absolutely no COTS digital electronics have ever experienced crash or corruption inducing single event effects (When did they change the acronym from SEE to SEI?). I'd be willing to bet that there have been SEE/SEI crashes, but generations of craptacular Microsoft operating systems have concealed them. It's quite clear from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on board that the station is getting pelted with high energy protons day in and day out, not to mention the heavier stuff that contributes significantly to the radiation exposure astronauts have to keep track of. One of those particles hitting the right transistor will most certainly change the value stored in a DRAM cell, and now that we're talking about billions of cells with a transistor each, that's a lot of targets.

          I have to ask, when you mention Beaglebones etc. being on station for years, does that involve years of uptime, or are these things being regularly rebooted? If they're being rebooted, how frequently?

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            I'm astonished to hear that absolutely no COTS digital electronics have ever experienced crash or corruption inducing single event effects (When did they change the acronym from SEE to SEI?). I'd be willing to bet that there have been SEE/SEI crashes, but generations of craptacular Microsoft operating systems have concealed them. It's quite clear from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on board that the station is getting pelted with high energy protons day in and day out, not to mention the heavier stuff that

      • IIRC, 386SX never ran NT, much less XP. Those were among the first 386s out there, and for the bulk of their lifetime, the popular OS was Windows 3.1, maybe even 95 & 98. But when NT started, recommended starting x86 CPU was always a 486, preferably a Pentium. This application looks like it used the 386SX for embedded, so other OSs like QNX might have been usable here.

        Reading about the R3000 CPU used in the New Horizons Spacecraft, wonder what OS it ran? Some Unix - like RISC/OS or Ultrix? Or Li

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Information about the reliability of the laptops is damn hard to find

        And probably not especially relevant because failure is likely to be driven by events (large temperature difference, sudden acceleration, bumping into things etc) and because they probably don't stay in the same location. A machine that is built into something instead of being moved around is something more likely to fail due to the situation than an event.

        We already know that dropping laptops is bad (or in zero-G running into things at

      • Maybe they should have use Epyc, which has much better RAS features than Broadwell: http://www.amd.com/system/file... [amd.com]

    • by MobileC ( 83699 )

      From TFA.
      "More modern hardware can be found in space; there are laptops on the ISS, 2007-vintage ThinkPad T61p running Debian, Scientific Linux, and Windows 7. They are being replaced by HP ZBook 15s which will run the same mix of Linux distributions and Windows 10. The Linux systems act as remote terminals to C&C MDM, while the Windows systems are used for e-mail, the web, and recreation.

      But those laptops are not high-availability, high-performance computers. They're ordinary laptops which are expected

      • by chihowa ( 366380 )

        Indeed, there are over a hundred laptops on the ISS and most are defunct.

        With a proper defunct laptop ejection port, they could use them for minor course corrections.

    • The laptops are a way to bypass the long testing and approval process which keeps ancient computers in aerospace. Airplanes have the same problem, often using technology a decade or older because that's the computer which the plane was certified with. Upgrading the computers involves re-certifying the plane, which is horribly expensive unless you're re-certifying it anyway (e.g. new model of the plane).

      With a laptop, you can grab one off the shelf and just launch it to see if it works in space - that c
      • To be inclusive, the Shuttle was controlled by five AP-101 computers (one as cold, the other as hot spare), had 16 x 32-bit registers and could process 480,000 instructions per second.

        The HP-41C were useful on board tools, used for calculating the change to the center of gravity due to fuel consumption and could be used as backup to the main computer to determine ignition times for re-entry. They were nice, but not quite in the same league.
  • is how Skynet begins.

  • Gamma radiation... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @04:24PM (#55004077)
    Whenever something inexplicable happened while testing a video game, I've always put down "gamma radiation" on the bug report. The developers hated that term but they couldn't explain why it happened either.
    • Wow, meanwhile you even managed to recruit hate mods :)
      Understandable, they know about alpha radiation, some even about beta, but with gama you simply lost them.

    • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

      Our testers do that only for non-reproducible bugs. Who cares if you are unable to explain the bug? That's the job of the bug fixer.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I used to have a gaming PC that used to crash five seconds before my "extreme weather warning app" on my smartphone sent off an alarm. Either events can travel back in time, or the weather radar station close to my apartment was receiving an echo that somehome affected the PC (which did have a clear transparent "window" on the side rather than a solid metal case).

      • I used to have a gaming PC that used to crash five seconds before my "extreme weather warning app" on my smartphone sent off an alarm. Either events can travel back in time, or the weather radar station close to my apartment was receiving an echo that somehome affected the PC (which did have a clear transparent "window" on the side rather than a solid metal case).

        Sounds like the PC in "Thrice Upon A Time" [amzn.to] by James P. Hogan that could send email forward or backward in time.

  • Go see it for yourself http://www.spacex.com/webcast [spacex.com]
  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @04:55PM (#55004213)

    The approach is interesting, but putting it in the ISS is only slightly more demanding than putting it on your desk. Both remain well under the protection of the Van Allen belts. The real test is out beyond the Van Allen belts where the radiation really gets tough.

  • Not impressive as my 4 year old i7 has 120,000,000 instructions per second. This is around 8 times more which is a new desktop for a few thousand. Also my GPU which is a semi crappy RX 470 can easily do 5 trillion operations per second no problem.

  • Why do they need a supercomputer up there?
    Could not they compute in the cloud like the rest of us?
    Or did they cut the cable and do not have internet anymore?
    Or simply are they just above it?
    Oh...wait...
    But seriously?

  • I was told years ago, when I was in University, that a "Supercomputer" had a clock speed of 200MHz - with the understanding it was really 200 MIPs/FLOPs.

    This sounds like a good step forward and a significant improvement on the AP100s that were on the first shuttles and had a clock rate of 480kHz (and, IIRC, 1.5MByte of ROM ("ROS" in IBM-speak) and 500kByte of SRAM).

  • Why put a supercomputer up there? Is the bandwidth available not enough to send a dataset to Earth, process it, and send it back? Or are the calculations needed to keep the ISS running that complex?

  • 8088's were 1980. 286's came out in the mid-eighties. 386's were brand new and *expensive* by '87/88. Therefore, 386 is *not* 1980.

  • I find it interesting that this project will make use of Red Hat 6.8 to complete the COTS picture.
    For other needs, the software suite has to show a high level of reliability as well. Think along the lines of DO-178* (safety/mission critical) requirements
    Witness efforts with QuickSAT/XEN ( https://www.sbir.gov/sbirsearc... [sbir.gov] ) and the work from Victor with GalacticSky ( http://www.galacticsky.net/ [galacticsky.net] )

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