NASA’s high-end computing plays a key role in taking many of the agency’s missions from concept to real-world application. From the increasing accuracy of global weather forecasts for forecasting entities (like NOAA) to warn of severe storms, to designs for future air taxis to transport people safely around urban areas, to parachute design tests for landing From spacecraft to the Moon and other planets, our supercomputing resources and experts are driving advances in science and engineering for the benefit of humanity.
These projects and much more will be on display at the agency hybrid exhibition during SC23, the International Conference on High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis. This year’s conference will be held in Denver from November 12-17.
1. Air taxi safety simulation near the ground
With the development of urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles, in the near future people would be able to request air taxi rides. Researchers studying the aerodynamic performance of multiple UAM designs are focusing this year on simulations to analyze how these vehicles behave near the ground. Many of the agency’s UAM aircraft concepts have rotors, just like helicopters. Supercomputers at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, run complex, high-fidelity fluid dynamics computational simulations that capture the interaction between the rotors in detail. , other vehicle components and the ground surface. These simulations allow scientists to better understand vehicle aerodynamics and rotor-induced flow around vehicles to detect potentially hazardous areas with strong winds and gusts. The simulation data allows the team to predict changes in the way UAMs handle near the ground and provide guidelines for the safe movement of crew and passengers near the vehicles.
2. Predict the strongest storms within a global computer model
The common fuel for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes is convection: vigorous up-and-down motions of the atmosphere that vertically transport heat and moisture. Operational weather forecasting centers typically predict convective-scale weather using limited-area regional computer models because convection-resolved global models require too much computing power. Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have adapted their Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) global model to apply finer grid resolutions of 2 to 4 kilometers (about 1.25 to 2 .5 miles) over the continental United States. GEOS forecasts running on the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) Discover supercomputer and the NAS Aitken supercomputer are extending the predictability of the strongest storms beyond two days while also accounting for better the local impacts of heavy rainfall, winds and heat. Ongoing simulations accurately tracked the extreme weather events of 2023, including hurricanes Idalia and Lee and Tropical Storm Ophelia.
3. Protection of space capsules during planetary entry, descent and landing
NASA space capsules are designed to survive entering planetary atmospheres at hypersonic speeds and protect their payloads (or crew) from the extreme temperatures that occur during entry. In addition to heat, the spacecraft may also encounter instabilities as aerodynamic drag slows it down during descent. To quantify and understand this additional danger, NASA Ames researchers used the agency’s Pleiades and Electra supercomputers to simulate the capsules’ free flight conditions during the entire planetary entry trajectory. These complex simulations are used to analyze the flight dynamics of the capsule and identify risks that instabilities may pose during the last stage of the flight trajectory. The resulting analyzes help engineers design entry vehicles for planetary exploration, helping to ensure the success of NASA programs, including Artemis and the upcoming Dragonfly mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
4. Transform and represent earth science data
Since the agency’s founding in 1958, NASA has been tasked with widely disseminating information about its activities and results. A new NASA public communications effort is the Earth Information Center (EIC), which presents visualizations of raw observational and model data in a set of dashboards arranged like a NASA Mission Control Center for our planet. The EIC facility at NASA Headquarters in Washington includes a multi-panel hyperwall for displaying large-format animations surrounded by smaller portals depicting a series of Earth’s “vital signs.” The various data sources include simulations performed on the NCCS Discover supercomputer and observations from satellites and ground-based instruments maintained by NASA and its partners. Since opening in late June 2023, the EIC has attracted a wide variety of visitors, from dignitaries to primary school students. Additionally, EIC information is helping policymakers, scientists, and NASA data users such as farmers, business owners, and researchers.
5. Using autonomous onboard scientific agents for planetary exploration
Researchers with NASA’s Goddard Distributed Systems Mission initiative are working to enable deep space missions that are adaptive and can autonomously interpret and respond to newly collected scientific data using an onboard software “agent” instead of await new instructions from Earth in each phase of the mission. To test this new autonomous mission design, they chose Enceladus, an icy oceanic moon of Saturn and one of the most promising targets for searching for life in our solar system. In a simulated mission scenario, scientists modeled various trajectories and orbits of eight small spacecraft to produce what would be the first stable constellation around Enceladus that would provide global coverage of the moon for collecting scientific observations. The team deployed its onboard autonomous scientific agent to analyze simulated data in “real time.” The agent uses multiple machine learning models to process and interpret the relative amounts of various compounds detected in Europa’s ice plumes (indicators of the possibility of life), interprets that data autonomously, and then makes decisions that affect the analysis of Tracking or transmitting prioritized data based on pre-scheduled mission goals.
To learn more about the supercomputers run by NASA High-End Computing, visit:
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Authors: Jill Dunbar and Michelle Moyer, NASA Ames Research Center, and Jarrett Cohen and Sean Keefe, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center