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HPE's Aitken supercomputer shoots for the moon

26 Aug 2019

HPE has ambitious plans to shoot for the moon – or at least to build a supercomputer that can support missions to that distant globe that lights up the night sky.

HPE is building a new supercomputer called ‘Aitken’, named after American Astronomer Robert Grant Aitken. The supercomputer will be able to run complex simulations for moon missions – specifically the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) process.

Aitken will become a key tool for NASA’S Ames Research Centre and its Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the lunar South Pole region by 2024.

“HPE has a longstanding collaboration with NASA Ames, and together, we continue to build innovative HPC technologies to fuel space and science discovery that increase overall efficiency and reduce costs,” comments HPE’s vice president and general manager of HPC and AI, Bill Mannel. 

“We are honoured to have designed the new Aitken supercomputer and power capabilities for humanity’s next mission to the moon.”

Aitken is based on HPE’s SGI 8600 system, which is a high-performance computing platform with special liquid cooling abilities.

The supercomputer is located in NASA Ames’ new modular supercomputing facility, which is based in Mountain View, California. The facility will combine native Bay Area temperature and evaporative methods to cool the supercomputer, replacing the need for a cooling tower and millions of gallons of water.  

The facility is also based on a Modular Data Center (MDC) approach jointly developed with HPE. This approach will deliver advanced HPC solutions that drive greater efficiency and significantly reduce electricity and water use.

What makes up Aitken?

The end-to-end, purpose-built HPE SGI 8600 system that integrates compute, software, networking and other IT infrastructure solutions from its robust ecosystem of partners, including:

•    2nd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors for advanced compute performance

•    Mellanox InfiniBand to enable scalable bandwidth for high-performance networking

•    Schneider Electric SmartShelter Containers that enable easy-to-deploy, prefabricated IT infrastructure packaged within a secure, weather proof, fire-rated, data module for remote or special applications

Other features include:

•    1,150 nodes, 46,080 cores, and 221 TB of memory

•    3.69 petaflops of theoretical peak performance

•    Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.03

HPE is no stranger to space technologies – in 2018 the company announced that astronauts aboard the International Space Station could utilise ‘above the cloud’ supercomputer services to allow space explorers and experimenters to run analyses directly in space instead of transmitting data to and from Earth for insight. The project is part of the Spaceborne Computer project, which launched in 2017.

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