Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule seconds after launch. Image from SpaceX video


Hawthorne-based SpaceX launched another supply mission to the International Space Station Monday, sending roughly three tons of material to the outpost, including a Hewlett Packard supercomputer.

The mission, dubbed CRS-12, launched just after 9:30 a.m. California time from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A Falcon 9 rocket was used to launch a Dragon spacecraft toward the space station, and SpaceX again recovered the first stage of the rocket on the ground near the Florida coast.

SpaceX has been perfecting its system of recovering the first stage of the Falcon 9 rockets — preserving them for re-use in future missions and thereby saving millions of dollars in mission costs.

The Dragon spacecraft is expected to arrive at the International Space Station at 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Within the cargo on the ship will be a Hewlett Packard Enterprise supercomputer, which is part of a yearlong experiment to test a computer that can operate in deep space for about a year, or roughly the length of time needed to travel to Mars.

According to HPE, most computer operations on the International Space Station or even on the moon can be carried out “in near-real-time communication with Earth.” But once a computer travels deeper into space, a communication lag between it and computers on Earth becomes problematic, taking as much as 20 minutes for data to travel each way.

“Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially dangerous if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they’re not able to solve themselves,” according to HPE. “A mission to Mars will require sophisticated onboard computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime.

To meet these requirements, we need to improve technology’s viability in space in order to better ensure mission success.”

The yearlong “Spaceborne Computer” experiment will mark the first attempt to run a high-performance “commercial off-the-shelf computer system” in space, according to HPE.

—City News Service

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