International Space Station

Now that’s edge computing

Astronauts at the International Space Station will soon be taking delivery of an HPE Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2). Expected to be in service for two to three years, the edge computing device will connect ISS users to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

In 2107, NASA sent the first Spaceborne Computer, an HPE Linux machine, to the ISS to give astronauts high-performance computing capabilities for onboard operations and provide extra power for their experiments.  

The ruggedized SBC-2 is built on the HPE Edgeline Converged Edge system and offers twice the compute speed as the original Spaceborne Computer. GPUs allow SBC-2 to more easily ingest and process image-intensive data from satellites, environmental sensors and cameras in real time. The GPU capabilities will also support specific artificial intelligence and machine learning projects and help with real-time monitoring of astronauts’ physiological conditions, HPE said in its announcement.

Computationally intensive workloads such as modeling of the Martian atmosphere or analyzing lightning strikes to predict wildfires can be transmitted to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Microsoft sees the HPE partnership as part of its Azure Space ecosystem, which features Azure Orbital ground stations that receive data from low-earth orbit or medium-earth orbit satellites.  Modular Azure data centers can be set up near the receiving stations to handle compute and storage services coming in via satellite. 

In September, the Federal Communications Commission authorized Microsoft to conduct six months of proof-of-concept demonstrations that would connect a Spanish imaging satellite to two ground stations, showing that the satellite’s data can be downloaded directly into the Azure cloud.

For SBC-2, though, NASA and HPE will set up the connection to the Azure cloud, Microsoft’s announcement indicated.

A launch of the SBC-2 is scheduled for Feb. 20 as part of a Northrop Grumman ISS resupply effort.

HPE is soliciting proposals for SBC-2 research projects. Applicants can learn more on how to submit a proposal to leverage the system to run experiments here.

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