In this article

  • While technology on the ground is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, the rate of application to spaceborne initiatives is lacking
  • At HPE, we believe the Intelligent Edge offers opportunities to reduce communication latencies, one of the key challenges faced by the mission to Mars
Dr. Tom Bradicich explores how edge computing can help open new opportunities — on Earth and in space

Just over 40 years ago, NASA’s Voyager mission first went into orbit. Since then, the twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, have collected data to help us visualize and understand depths of space in unprecedented ways. During that same 40 year period, technological capabilities on Earth have evolved dramatically, but many of these advancements haven’t been applied to space exploration at the same rate. For instance, we still embark on singular reconnaissance missions to drive data and image capture. Our technologies still rely on communications between spacecraft and Earth, with high latency and limited ability while in orbit. We want to change that.

At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, we’re embarking on a new mission: the Extreme Edge research initiative, an exploration of the challenges of edge connectivity, computing and control systems in rigorous conditions—such as deep space—to advance the understanding, design and efficiency of today’s Intelligent Edge systems. Why? Because we believe deploying an intelligent ecosystem of sensors, actuators and systems in space will enable us to operate in new ways and achieve new depths of exploration—both in deep space and here on Earth. 

Introducing the Extreme Edge Research Initiative

One of the greatest challenges of edge computing is the time it takes to transfer information collected from sensors at the edge to the core data center, where the information can be processed. Then, that information needs to be sent back out to edge devices. Today, that latency—the gap in time between the edge sensor receiving a request, transmitting the information and then receiving information back from the data center—can often seem negligible. Maybe a half-second delay. But, as you might imagine, the further the edge, the longer the latency.

Consider that challenge within the context of space. It may surprise you to learn that space is truly the furthest expanse of the Intelligent Edge today. Much of the computation performed during space exploration is still conducted in core data centers on Earth. That makes space exploration pretty dangerous. Mars exploration poses a particular challenge. In the event of an emergency on Mars, it will take 20 minutes for the astronaut’s message, “Houston, we have a problem,” to reach mission control and still another 20 minutes for mission control to share a solution.

Through the Extreme Edge research initiative, Hewlett Packard Enterprise will develop industry-first edge technologies to help eliminate many of the current latency, bandwidth and performance challenges of technology operating at the edge. By designing edge systems for a space environment, HPE will explore design requirements to maximize performance and withstand degradation in even the most extreme environments—think radiation and solar flares—and to collect data and compute at the edge without relying on the core data center. Additionally, the HPE team will explore ways to actuate certain autonomous tasks, such as monitoring and controlling equipment in the event of an emergency.

Through this program, the Extreme Edge research team will seek new ways to incorporate high-density, low-energy computational accelerators being researched by Hewlett Packard Labs into edge systems. This includes equipping HPE Edgeline Systems, which are uniquely designed to enable secure edge connectivity, computing and control, with additional autonomy and intelligence capabilities. This integrated approach will enable innovations that combine the strength of the dense, low energy HPE Edgeline product line for the Industrial Internet of the Things with the ingenuity and advanced research capabilities of Hewlett Packard Labs.

To achieve this, we will be hardening HPE Edgeline systems, research we kicked off in partnership with NASA with a program to harden a supercomputer for operation aboard the International Space Station, and incorporating computational accelerators like the Dot-Product Engine into the platform. Developed by Hewlett Packard Labs, the Dot-Product Engine is an ionics-based system that enables computers to perform matrix operations (crunching multiple data points at once) much more rapidly and at lower power than traditional computers. By combining such innovative technologies, we will dramatically improve the computational power, bandwidth and control rigor of the system, optimizing for space and weight.

Designing Edge Solutions for Space, with Major Impact for Earth

Space is a great microcosm. When I think about the journey to Mars, I think about the systems we can provide to deliver capabilities that aren’t possible today. I have conversations with teams working across all facets of space exploration about what they envision for next-generation exploration. They want intelligent power generation systems, control systems and environmental systems. They want to improve the health and safety of crews throughout their missions. Those are exactly the same things we at Hewlett Packard Enterprise deliver here on Earth and exactly what this Extreme Edge research will enable us to design—systems that continually improve our lives and are capable of delivering new levels of insight and autonomy from even the most remote and dangerous locations.

We believe it is this type of exploration—open to the unknown—that will expose entirely new fields of edge systems and computing. We originally conceived HPE Edgeline Systems to enable connectivity, compute and controls anytime, anywhere—in some of the most complex environments on Earth. The Extreme Edge initiative represents a unique opportunity for Hewlett Packard Enterprise to examine that next set of challenges that will be met in space, at the edge of human exploration. It will serve as a laboratory for us to imagine the next wave of efficient edge systems, pushing the boundaries of what they can enable. And we are ready for that challenge.