beowulf in space

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at
Mon Apr 14 16:43:39 EDT 2003

The short answer is yes, it has been and is being considered, in several 
forms.  The interprocessor comm is not necessarily slower (very wideband 
optical links are practical), but latency is an issue. However, there are 
many space applications that can benefit from this sort of thing that 
aren't particularly bandwidth or latency constrained.

While the scientists would generally like to have a big pipe to the ground 
and just send raw data for later processing, there are situations where you 
just can't send that much data back, and it has to be on-board processed in 
some way.

Of course, inasmuch as part of Beowulfery is the idea of commodity off the 
shelf computers being used, real Beowulfs in space aren't likely to come 
any time soon, since almost NOTHING in space is a commodity part.  It costs 
so much to get it there, that the additional cost for a "custom" part is a 
small fraction of the launch cost.

If you were to search back proceedings of the IEEE Aerospace Conference 
(Big Sky MT), you'll find some papers on Beowulf type systems proposed for 
space applications, and also some novel ideas for high bandwidth cluster 
interconnects based on optical techniques.

As RGB pointed out, the design environment for space is somewhat 
different.. power consumption and cooling (even if you have a reactor a'la 
Prometheus) are signficant challenges, as is the radiation environment, 
both in an single event and in a total dose.

At 11:59 AM 4/14/2003 -0700, chettri at wrote:
>Has anybody considered the theoretical aspects of placing beowulfs on a 
>cluster of satellites? I understand that communication will be slower AND 
>and it would restrict the set of problems that could be solved. I'm 
>looking for papers/tech reps etc on the subject.
>Samir Chettro
>Beowulf mailing list, Beowulf at
>To change your subscription (digest mode or unsubscribe) visit 

James Lux, P.E.
Spacecraft Telecommunications Section
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 161-213
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
tel: (818)354-2075
fax: (818)393-6875

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