Are there clouds in space? Perhaps not in the meteorological sense, but as a result of a collaboration between Microsoft and HPE there will soon be a cloud in space, in the IT sense.
Under the collaboration, Microsoft will connect its cloud computing Azure Space platform to the Spaceborne Computer-2, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise product promising to "deliver edge computing and [artificial intelligence] capabilities to the International Space Station (ISS)."
The Spaceborne Computer-2 will launch to space February 20 aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft that does regular shuttle runs to the station delivering other supplies.
According to Microsoft and HPE, some of the applications which are relevant to the project include growing plants in space, modeling dust storms on Earth to assist with Mars mission planning, and doing ultrasound medical imaging for astronaut health care.
The Spaceborne Computer-2's mission could last two or three years. Once the computer is up and running in orbit, researchers will be able to use the Azure cloud system to do intensive processing or to transmit results back to the device. The computer is based on HPE's Edgeline Converged Edge system designed to operate in harsh environments.
"The combined advancements of Spaceborne Computer-2 will enable astronauts to eliminate longer latency and wait times associated with sending data to-and-from Earth, to tackle research, and gain insights immediately for a range of projects," the companies’ press release said.
The new project builds on the lessons learned from a predecessor proof-of-concept device, called Spaceborne Computer. This flew to the space station for a one-year mission in 2017 to investigate computer reliability in space, amid a harsh environment that includes high radiation and zero gravity.
"The goal was to test if affordable, commercial off-the-shelf servers used on earth, but equipped with purposefully-designed software-based hardening features, can withstand the shake, rattle and roll of a rocket launch to space, and once there, seamlessly operate on the ISS," the press release said, adding the predecessor mission was a success.
"Additionally, gaining more reliable computing on the ISS is just the first step in NASA's goals for supporting human space travel to the moon, Mars and beyond where reliable communications is a mission critical need," the release noted.
Image Credit iStockphoto: dima_zel