Supercomputer clears view of space
- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia
- Dec 10, 2000
Satellite, spare part or UFO?
Distinguishing objects in space became
easier last month, following the announcement that the Air Force's space
surveillance team is using a new IBM Corp. supercomputer to identify the
more than 9,000 objects in Earth's orbit.
The Air Force team, based at the Maui High Performance Computing Center
in Hawaii, is using a supercomputer upgrade to speed the digital enhancement
of anything located, tracked or imaged using ground-based telescopes, said
Capt. Brian Beveridge, program manager for MHPCC and project officer for
the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The IBM SP supercomputer is capable of 480 billion calculations per
second and can rapidly turn fuzzy, unreadable telescopic images into sharply
focused motion pictures. This enables Defense Department officials to determine
whether the object is a spacecraft or some spare part left behind during
a NASA flight.
"It's the same software and algorithms as before, but it allows us to
do more images in the same amount of time," Beveridge said. "It's like
upgrading your desktop from a 200 MHz to a 700 MHz machine.... You can process
The supercomputer may also be used during flights of the space shuttle,
which will enable NASA controllers to identify damage that might have occurred
during liftoff or in flight.
The Air Force and DOD are using the supercomputing processors for other
missions besides space image rendering, but those are classified, said Gene
Bal, director of MHPCC.
Bal said that the facility has been using IBM SP technology since 1993,
and the latest supercomputer was part of a $10 million option. This recent
upgrade was valued at about $4.5 million.
The latest IBM SP has 80 nodes with four processors each and uses complex
algorithms to significantly improve telescopic images in about five seconds,
as opposed to 10 seconds in the past, said Dave Turek, vice president of
IBM's deep computing unit. The parallel programming setup enables extremely
fast communication between the nodes and offers the ability to solve complex
Initial benchmarks with the new supercomputer show that the processing
time has been cut in half for many applications, said Steve Karwoski, associate
director of operations at MHPCC. "For most applications, we're getting approximately
a doubling of performance."