Stackable computers out of this world

Jun 20, 2005
Stackable computers out of this world

Brisbane engineers have teamed up with NASA to help build a new computer system for future space missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
The team of electronics engineers from The University of Queensland, led by Dr John Williams, is building the software operating system for the American space agency’s Reconfigurable Scaleable Computing (RSC) project.

Image: Space-age computing: Dr John Williams with a computer board, similar in size to the RSC boards that can be stacked together (middle) and linked for more processing power (right).

RSC is a modular computer system with small motherboards, about 13cm X 10cm, that can be stacked and linked together in different sized clusters, depending on their use.

Dr Williams said RSC would be used for data-rich processing in space such as controlling exploration rovers, robotic mining vehicles, real-time cameras and sensors, and surface and atmospheric analysis.

“Conventional silicon chips can only perform the task they were designed to do, but RSC uses reconfigurable logic chips that can be infinitely reprogrammed to perform almost any function,” Dr Williams said.

“This is particularly useful for missions which require fast processing as well as flexibility to update their function or correct design errors after a spacecraft is launched.”

RSC principal investigator Dr Robert Hodson said NASA wanted an alternative space computing system to improve processing speed and reduce the expense and time to retest systems for different space missions.

But RSC would not replace all space computing such as shuttle take-off or flight control systems.

“NASA recognizes UQ as a leader in embedded operating systems for reconfigurable computing and views their contributions to the RSC project as vital to its success,” Dr Hodson said.

The RSC operating system is a modified version of Linux, an open-source alternative to Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS which is widely used in scientific and academic computing.

Dr Williams has been modifying Linux to run on reconfigurable hardware, and has freely released his work to the public which was how NASA became aware of the UQ group’s expertise.

UQ’s School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering has signed a partnership agreement with NASA’s Langley Research Centre for its four-year RSC project, worth approximately $18 million.

UQ is the only non-US partner in RSC, and the agreement follows NASA’s continued relationship with UQ’s Hypersonics research team.

“The RSC system is vital technology needed to implement the NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration – a comprehensive program to extend human and robotic presence throughout the Solar System,” Dr Hodson said.

Source: UQ

Explore further: Sony saga blends foreign intrigue, star wattage

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cosmonauts perform 27th russian space station spacewalk

Jan 24, 2011

Two Russian cosmonauts ventured outside the International Space Station on Jan. 21 to complete installation of a new high-speed data transmission system, remove an old plasma pulse experiment, install a camera ...

Recommended for you

Cyclist's helmet, Volvo car to communicate for safety

9 hours ago

Volvo calls it "a wearable life-saving wearable cycling tech concept." The car maker is referring to a connected car and helmet prototype that enables two-way communication between Volvo drivers and cyclists ...

California puzzles over safety of driverless cars

10 hours ago

California's Department of Motor Vehicles will miss a year-end deadline to adopt new rules for cars of the future because regulators first have to figure out how they'll know whether "driverless" vehicles ...

Britain's UKIP issues online rules after gaffes

10 hours ago

UK Independence Party (UKIP), the British anti-European Union party, has ordered a crackdown on the use of social media by supporters and members following a series of controversies.

Sony saga blends foreign intrigue, star wattage

10 hours ago

The hackers who hit Sony Pictures Entertainment days before Thanksgiving crippled the network, stole gigabytes of data and spilled into public view unreleased films and reams of private and sometimes embarrassing ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.