Space station supercomputer will aid in search for antimatter galaxies, dark matter

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redOrbit’s space news section carried an interesting piece over the weekend on a space-borne cluster that will be launched in 2010 as part of a new sensor array to be added to the International Space Station (ISS)

AMSThe device that does the actual hunting is called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer–or AMS for short. It’s a $1.5 billion cosmic ray detector that the shuttle will deliver to the ISS.

In addition to sensing distant galaxies made entirely of antimatter, the AMS will also test leading theories of dark matter, an invisible and mysterious substance that comprises 83 percent of the matter in the universe. And it will search for strangelets, a theoretical form of matter that’s ultra-massive because it contains so-called strange quarks.

One of the legitimate objections to the cloud model of computing is that the movement of data is a rate limiting factor. This goes double when you are shipping your data down from orbit. Scientists solved this problem by moving the computer to the data

Many terabytes of data pour out of these sensors, and supercomputers crunch that data to infer each particle’s mass, energy, and electric charge. The supercomputer is part of why AMS must be mounted onto the ISS rather than being a free-flying satellite. AMS produces far too much data to beam down to Earth, so it must carry an onboard supercomputer with 650 CPUs to do the number crunching in orbit. Partly because of this giant computer, AMS requires 2.5 kilowatts of power — far more than a normal satellite’s solar panels can provide, but well within the space station’s 100 kilowatt power supply.

“AMS is basically an all-purpose particle detector moved into space,” Ting says.

Hmm. Wonder what the OS is? Some specialized embedded beasty or SUSE?


  1. Not sure about the OS (but given that CERN is involved it might be Scientific Linux for some parts) but there are some details on the electronics here: