A joint project involving five space agencies (NASA, Roscosmos of Russia, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency), the International Space Station (ISS) is the largest artificial object orbiting the earth. At a speed of approximately 17,211 miles per hour, it takes the ISS about 92 minutes to complete one orbit—traveling at an altitude of about 220 miles above the earth.
Six people live and work inside the ISS, which is essentially an “orbiting laboratory” used to conduct research that’s not possible on earth. The space station currently operates more than 100 commercial workstations and laptops for a variety of functions, including engineering, testing and operations. The computers are replaced about every six years.
Controlling costs without jeopardizing mission-critical operations.
Stephen Hunter, resources manager for the ISS, was tasked to find ways to control IT costs—without any loss of functionality. Hunter found a solution: deploying HP ZBook 15 and Z240 mobile workstations.
In an interview with Computer Dealer News (CDN), Hunter explained that he made the decision to standardize commercial, off-the-shelf computing solutions and reached out to leading vendors like HP to deliver the level of performance and reliability NASA required. The Z Series of mobile workstations met these demanding requirements.
“I did not want a one-off machine,” Hunter told CDN. “I wanted one that could rise to the challenge and make it easier to use in the lab or for other sciences…I can’t send a technician 240 nautical miles to the space station. It would cost too much.”
With advanced capabilities like 3D graphics, powerful processors and massive memory capacity, ZBook 15 Mobile Workstations and Z420 Desktop Workstations are currently being deployed on the ISS as well as at NASA Mission Control in Houston. They’re being used across all NASA missions to maintain mission-critical functions such as life support, command and control, maintenance and operations. HP Z Workstations also support science experiments, research studies, and the physical and psychological health of astronauts.
New frontiers to conquer and hurdles to overcome.
One of NASA’s new goals is to have an astronaut spend more than a year on the ISS. Currently, the average stay is between three to six months. This presents many challenges, however. For example, the effects of radiation in space can be harmful to IT components on board. Moreover, the effects of long-term space habitation can cause a person’s retina to detach. “The crew becomes an experiment on its own,” noted Hunter in the CDN interview.
To help address these effects, ZBook Workstations will be loaded with Fundoscope, an app that checks the retina, and Vision Acuity Pro, which monitors the astronauts’ vision.
Another new ISS initiative is the utilization of Microsoft HoloLens technology, which is designed to give astronauts high-definition holograms for an augmented view of space environments. Intended largely for training purposes, the HoloLens can simulate a 3D walk on Mars. (Currently all that are available are 2D raw images in black and white.) HoloLens technology will offer astronauts a closer glimpse into what they can expect on future expeditions.
With HP Z Workstations at the helm, NASA and ISS are blazing new trails in space exploration. Stay tuned for more exciting developments.