beowulf in space

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at
Mon Apr 14 18:49:24 EDT 2003

At 03:40 PM 4/14/2003 -0400, astroguy at wrote:
>Hi list,
>Ok, you computer genius and rocket scientist all... I tend to agree with 
>Dr.Brown's position but for the sake of argument... Let's think of along 
>the lines of where a computational cluster might find some in space 
>application.  Say for example we were to launch a probe into the 
>Sun's  outer corona... let assume also that we have some shielding device 
>that would sustain the craft in the 10 million degree C or so that such a 
>craft is sure to encounter..

The corona is a fairly non-dense plasma (100 ions/cm^3 viz 2E19 atoms/cm^3 
for STP air), more closely resembling a really good vacuum(1E-15 torr?), 
where the ions are moving moderately fast (1-10kEv), corresponding to a 
temperature of 10 million K, but I don't know that the heat content is all 
that great, and I don't know that it would actually heat a real body placed 
in it all that much, any more than the CRT in your TV or monitor heats up 
from the 100 million K electrons in the internal beam (which has a much, 
much higher number density than the corona)

For some data on a real solar atmosphere probe: and
and a nice technical presentation at

>. Even with our best science fiction such a craft could only endure a few 
>precious moments in such a space environment, so we would have to use the 
>advantage of speed... Ok, so we use an ion engine to get the craft up to 
>speed... since the sun's corona extends apparently 700,000 km or so into 
>space... the craft would have to get up to a speed say 250,000 mph.  Which 
>we have yet to achieve but not impossible... Sling shot around Jupiter and 
>Mars and back to the sun with the ion engine in a bit of celestial magic 
>provided by or on!
>  ground navigational cluster... certainly we can achieve a very high 
> velocity for our death plunge into the Sun's outer atmosphere... 
> Computational real time observations within those few precious moments 
> before the probe vaporised would certainly be enhanced by an on board 
> beowulf cluster... You asked for speculation, as to an application... I 
> think this is perhaps one.

While your nav scenario is a bit unrealistic, the need for on-board 
processing is precisely're limited in your downlink (total bits 
that can be sent before immolation)

> >
> > From: Mark Hahn <hahn at>
> > Date: 2003/04/14 Mon PM 02:46:05 EDT
> > To: chettri at
> > CC: beowulf at
> > Subject: Re: beowulf in space
> >
> > > Has anybody considered the theoretical aspects of placing beowulfs on a
> > > cluster of satellites?
> >

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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