SGI, Intel to build NASA supercomputer

NASA is working with Silicon Graphics Inc. and Intel Corp. to increase the space agency's supercomputing capacity at the Ames Research Center.

Project Columbia, expected to give NASA's supercomputing capacity a tenfold boost, will simulate future missions, project how humans affect weather patterns and help design exploration vehicles.

NASA officials will integrate a cluster of 20 interconnected SGI Altix 512-processor systems, for a total of 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors, to create the Space Exploration Simulator.

"This will enable NASA to meet its immediate mission-critical requirements for return to flight, while building a strong foundation for our space exploration vision and future missions," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in a statement.

The system will be built and integrated during the next 15 weeks. The first two nodes became operational in early July.

"NASA has a long history in supercomputing dating back to the origins of computational fluid dynamics in the 1980s," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of the Ames Research Center. "It is exciting to join with an industry team in this innovative venture that will change the very way in which science and simulation are performed by providing researchers with capabilities that, until now, they could only dream about."

Project Columbia is NASA's answer to the federal government's recent push to improve the nation's high-end computing capabilities. It also addresses supercomputer resource limitations revealed by the investigation into the Columbia shuttle accident and efforts related to returning to shuttle flight activities, according to NASA officials.

As recommended by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, part of the Project Columbia system will available to the nation's broader science and engineering community.

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