5 reasons edge computing is reinventing space exploration



  • Edge computing has proven to accelerate time-to-insight for critical research and innovation needs on the International Space Station
  • Future space exploration will require reliable edge computing to process data and run applications that are critical to human survival in space

As humans journey farther into the galaxy, edge computers will be essential to increase self-sufficiency and unlock new discoveries  

For more than half a century, space explorers have enlightened us with new insights about our solar system and our own planet. As humans travel farther out – whether that’s to the moon or to Mars – exploring the final frontier will unlock even more discoveries and opportunities. 

But these great opportunities also come with great challenges. 

Traveling to the moon can take up to three days, and a trip to Mars will take more than half a year. Loss of signal to and from Earth is inevitable, so reducing dependency on Earthbound communications will be critical before we travel to the moon, Mars, and beyond.  

To safely explore the cosmos, we will need advanced, reliable computers that can withstand the harshest conditions, float on the outer edge of the world, and operate for a long period of time. 

We call these edge computers.

Harnessing this capability in deep space is critical for astronauts to process data in real-time, and run applications and devices that are necessary to their operations and  survival. 

Space explorers living and working on the International Space Station today are already benefiting from edge computing through the HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, which was launched and installed on the station in 2021. 

Let’s look at ways edge computing, using the HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, has created breakthroughs in space exploration, and can further efforts as we travel farther out:

1.      Monitoring astronaut health on long space missions

Exposure to radiation onboard the spacecraft can have potential health effects on the human body. Frequent monitoring and testing will be essential as humans travel deeper into space, where the journey to Earth for medical diagnosis and treatment may be days, weeks, or months away. 

With the HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, astronauts were able to significantly speed up the time to process and sequence their DNA data – from 12.2 hours to just six minutes - to send to Earth to be further analyzed. This analysis would then determine if there were any new gene mutations and if those were benign or linked to cancer that may require astronauts to return to Earth for immediate care. 

This same approach can be applied to medical imaging, like ultrasounds and X-Rays, to speed up an astronaut’s diagnosis, and where relevant, treatment. 

2.      Manufacturing in space 

To get new supplies to astronauts on the International Space Station, requires a resupply ship traveling from Earth. With supplies costing $10,000 per pound to get off the ground, sourcing locally is the most economical and efficient approach.

Being able to 3D print new parts for repair and maintenance means space explorers can minimize downtime and keep their galactic operations running, especially when they are farther out and may not receive supplies for days or months.

The Cornell Fracture Group is already on top of this. After developing a modeling software that’s capable of simulating 3D printed metal parts, the team of researchers tested their software on the space station, using edge computing, to predict the performance and likelihood of failure when printing in space. 

3.     Increasing human safety during spacewalks

Astronauts rely on their space suits for environmental and life support during extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, where they leave the vessel to repair equipment, install new instruments, and upgrade features and functions on the space station. 

They must routinely check their gloves for any damage. Any wear or tear can present potential safety concerns. Astronauts take pictures of their gloves and send them back to Earth for human analysis and this typically takes up to five days. However, by leveraging edge computing, combined with AI-enabled image recognition capabilities, astronauts can perform this task in seconds, as we have seen in this experiment.

Axiom Space, which is developing next-generation spacesuits for the next human return to the moon, will deliver advanced capabilities for life support and pressure garments. The spacesuits will also include enhanced avionics features and HD video capture and informatics capabilities to stay connected with fellow astronauts and increase safety while performing tasks in outer space.

Edge computing, like HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, can help efficiently process data collected from the spacesuits to monitor an astronaut’s activity during spacewalks and improve communications, reducing the amount of time needed to pass between ground and Earth for critical operations.

4.     Aiding Earth’s weather predictions and response recovery efforts

Satellites are essential to observing Earth from space to study science and climate, as well as support disaster response. Using HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, researchers have been able to test several deep learning inference networks to automatically interpret remote sensed images from land and structures after a disaster. 

These can include determining the extent of flooding, such as from a hurricane, and to determine urban building damage, such as from an earthquake. These techniques could be used onboard future spacecraft to rapidly deliver actionable products to relevant authorities to assist in disaster recovery.

5.     Optimizing the first commercial space station

Axiom Space is building the world’s first commercial space station, with a planned launch of its first module in late 2025.

Axiom Station will drive a greater need for advanced computing, like edge computers, to run critical applications and systems. Having reliable computing will enable astronauts on this commercial platform to optimize operations, maintenance, and health, as well as support its on-orbit customers from around the globe.

To hear more about how edge computing will support future space exploration and the ever-expanding space economy from HPE and Axiom Space, come and join us at our panel at this year’s SXSW.

Share your thoughts on social using #SXSW #HPE 


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