beowulf in space

Art Edwards edwardsa at
Wed Apr 16 23:21:51 EDT 2003

I think I'm jumping into the middle of a conversation here, but our
branch is the shop through which most of the DoD processor programs are
managed. For real space applications there are radiation issues like
total dose hardness and single even upset that require special design
and, still, special processing. That is, you can't make these parts at
any foundry (yet). There are currently two hardened foundries through
which the most tolerant parts  are fabricated. Where the commercial
market is ~100's of Billions/year, the space electronics industry is
~200million/year. So parts are expensive, as Jim Lux says. But more
importantly, the current state-of-the-art for space processors is
several generations back. Now, with a 200 million market/year, who is
going to spend the money to build a new foundry? (anyone?) It's a huge
problem, and beowulfs in space will not give the economies of scale
necessary to move us forward. 

I don't know if this has been discussed here, but have you thought about
launch costs? They're huge. Weight, power, and mission lifetime are the 
crucial factors for space. These are the reasons that so much R&D goes
into space electronics. I apologize if I have gone over old ground.

Art Edwards

On Wed, Apr 16, 2003 at 04:41:36PM -0700, Jim Lux wrote:
> A
> >> There's also a non-negligble cost of having more items on the "bill of
> >> materials": each different kind of part needs drawings, documentation, 
> >test
> >> procedures, etc., a lot of which is what makes space stuff so expensive
> >> compared to the commercial parts (for which the primary cost driver is 
> >that
> >> of sand (raw materials) and marketing) so again, systems comprised of 
> >many
> >> identical parts have advantages.
> >
> >Hmmm, so the primary cost determinant of VLSIC's is the cost of sand...?
> >
> >Verrry Eeenteresting...
> >
> >Now marketing, that I'd believe;-)
> Say it costs a billion dollars to set up the fab (which can be spread over 
> 2-3 years, probably), and maybe another half billion to design the 
> processor (I don't know... 2500 work years seems like a lot, but...?)... 
> How many Pentiums does Intel make? It's kind of hard to figure out just how 
> many chips Intel makes in a given time (such being a critical aspect of 
> their profitibility), but...
> consider that Intel Revenue for 2002 was about $27B....
> As for marketing... in an article about P4s from April of 2001:
> Intel has told news sources that it plans to spend roughly $500 million to 
> promote the new technology among software makers, and another $300 million 
> on general advertising.
> Such enormous volumes are why commodity computing even works..The NRE for 
> truly high performance computing devices is spread over so many units...
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Art Edwards
Senior Research Physicist
Air Force Research Laboratory
Electronics Foundations Branch
KAFB, New Mexico

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