HPE and NASA Launch SBC-2 into Orbit

To infinity and beyond! That’s where Microsoft and HPE are planning on taking Azure cloud computing as it heads to the International Space Station (ISS). 

On February 20, HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), launched to the ISS onboard Northrop Grumman’s robotic Cygnus cargo ship. The mission will bring edge computing, artificial intelligence capabilities, and a cloud connection to orbit on an integrated platform. Spaceborne Computer-2 will be installed on the ISS for the next two to three years. It’s hoped the edge computing system will enable astronauts to eliminate latency associated with sending data to and from Earth, tackle research, and gain insights immediately for real-time projects.

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HPE anticipates the supercomputer to be used for experiments such as processing medical imaging and DNA sequencing, to unlocking key insights from volumes of remote sensors and satellites. Also, in mind for HPE when the IT equipment was delivered to the ISS was whether non-IT-trained astronauts could install it and connect it up to the power, the cooling, and the network. If that went well, the next question was whether it would work in space or not.

This isn’t NASA’s first rodeo when it comes to connecting cloud computing services to the ISS. In 2019, Amazon Web Services participated in a demonstration that used cloud-based processing to distribute live video streams from space. Surprisingly, it isn’t HPE’s first time either. In 2017, they sent up its first Spaceborne Computer, which demonstrated supercomputer-level processing speeds over a teraflop. Spaceborne computing has come a long way over the years, and now is a perfect time for the Microsoft-HPE collaboration. Recently, Microsoft extended its cloud footprint to the final frontier with Azure Space.

Microsoft Support HPE’s Spaceborne Computer with Azure

Microsoft and HPE are partnering to bring together Azure and the Spaceborne Computer-2 supercomputer, making it the ultimate edge-computing device. Microsoft and HPE said they’ll be working together to connect Azure to HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2. The pair are touting the partnership as bringing compute and AI capabilities to the ultimate edge computing device.

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Originally, HP and NASA partnered to build the Spaceborne Computer, described as an off-the-shelf supercomputer. The HPE Spaceborne Computer-2 is designed to simulate computation loads during space travel via data-intensive applications. By handling processing in space, we will be able to gain new information and research advancements in areas never seen before. The HP-Microsoft Spaceborne announcement is an expansion of Microsoft’s Azure Space initiative. Azure Space is a set of products, plus newly announced partnerships designed to position Azure as a key player in the space- and satellite-related connectivity/compute part of the cloud market.

Spaceborne Computer-2 is purposely engineered for harsh edge environments. Combine the power of the edge with the power of the cloud, SBC-2 will be connected to Microsoft Azure via NASA and HPE ground stations. HPE and Microsoft are gauging SBC-2’s edge computing capabilities and evolving machine-language models to handle a variety of research challenges. They are hopeful that the new supercomputer can eventually aid in anticipation of dust storms that could prevent future Mars missions and how to use AI-enhanced ultrasound imaging to make in-space medical diagnoses. 

Though SBC-2 will be used for research projects for two to three years, HPE and the ISS National Lab are taking requests. Do you have something you’d like to see measured in space? Let them know!

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