Space Station Gets a New Supercomputer

A team at the University of Pittsburgh designs a new computer for the harsh environment of space

Electrical and Computer engineers at the University of Pittsburgh have built a new supercomputer designed to deploy on the international space station. The Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing system is about 2.5 times faster than the computer it is replacing on the space station. The system will study sensing, image processing, and machine learning, and it will be part of the effort to develop and test autonomous piloting for spacecraft (the space version of self-driving cars).

Department chair Alan George says the new supercomputer is “one of the most powerful space-qualified computers ever to have flown.” According to George, the need for accurate and powerful sensing systems on the international space station leads to a need for supercomputers to process the data. “Everyone in the space community wants to build sensor systems that are more powerful and autonomous. We must process the data where it’s gathered, which requires very powerful computers, but space is the most challenging place to build and deploy powerful computers.”

In addition to the usual considerations for supercomputers, the system is designed for the harsh environment of space, with large temperature fluctuations and much more radiation than an earth-bound computer would face.