From sample to results: analyzing data in space enables faster data feedback
Press release from: Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)
Posted: Tuesday April 5th 2022
Space computing has taken an important step by allowing researchers conducting an experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to go from sample analysis to results while the experiment is on station. The ability to process data on board the ISS greatly reduces the time researchers need to obtain data and allows for potential iteration of research while the experiment is still in orbit.
Traditionally, very large raw data files from ISS experiments are redirected to Earth and processed through data centers before the results are sent to the investigator weeks later. However, using the HPE-2 Space Computer (SBC-2) from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) on board the ISS and a custom edge solution created and managed by IBM, investigators can now quickly process real-time data in space. They can even modify the experiment for additional trials during the same mission.
“The most important thing is getting results quickly, and that’s what edge computing is all about,” said Naeem Altaf, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technology Officer for Space Technology. “The goal is that wherever the data is produced, you get the results directly.”
As part of a project sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-1 (SBC-1) successfully operated on the ISS for 1.5 years in the first long-term demonstration of the supercomputing capabilities of a commercial off-the-shelf computer system on the space station. Building on what was learned from SBC-1, HPE launched SBC-2 at the station last May with the aim of allowing real users to leverage the system for in-space data processing. Together with IBM, this goal became a reality.
The first investigation to use the processing capability in space was a NASA experiment examining bacteria on the space station. A swab sample was taken aboard the ISS and run through the MinION DNA sequencer on the station. DNA sequencing produces large amounts of data, and processing this data is computationally intensive. The data generated by the MinION device was entered into a folder on the HPE SBC-2. It was then processed automatically using IBM’s custom edge solution, which uses Red Hat CodeReady Containers. Within eight hours, the data analysis was complete and the results file was sent to NASA investigators in the field, which is an exciting achievement.
Now that the ability to process data in space has been successfully demonstrated, it could be used by any researcher conducting research on the ISS. Investigators can easily develop and test their code from their labs on the ground using Red Hat CodeReady Containers on IBM Cloud. The containerized code can then be pushed to the ISS, where the same system runs on SBC-2. Then all that is needed is the data, and the system will automatically start scanning.
“IBM’s strategy is that you can build your code once and deploy it anywhere, whether on an edge location on Earth or in space, because the underlying platform is the same” , said Altaf.
In-space data processing will be crucial in the low Earth orbit economy of the future, enabling faster results and iterative research and development. Additionally, space computing combined with machine learning could enable automatic monitoring capabilities for a wide variety of applications, such as providing updates on astronaut health, spacecraft integrity, and status of plants grown as a food source. The ability to process data off Earth will also be essential in our future exploration of Mars and beyond.
“How quickly you can access the data you need is important, and as we head back to the Moon and Mars, that will become even more important,” Altaf said. “You can’t wait that long for the information to go to Earth and back – you need the analysis to be done there.”
To learn more about the ISS National Lab and the science it sponsors, please visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.
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About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service company, the ISS National Laboratory enables researchers to leverage this multi-user facility to improve life on Earth, evolve space business models, advance the science culture of the future workforce and develop a sustainable and scalable market in low earth orbit. Through this in-orbit National Laboratory, ISS research resources are available to support non-NASA science, technology, and educational initiatives of U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) operates the ISS National Laboratory, under a cooperative agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent research environment in microgravity, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Laboratory, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.
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