IBM announced today
that the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) has selected a
powerful IBM SP supercomputer to identify objects in space, including
old satellites, foreign spacecraft, and unidentified objects.

Installed at the MHPCC, the IBM SP assembles photos of objects
tracked by Air Force telescopes, helping to ensure the nation’s
defense, as well as the safety of NASA space flights.

The new IBM supercomputer can process 480 billion calculations per
second. One of the most powerful machines in the Department of Defense
(DoD) Research and Development computing arsenal, it is 40 times
faster than the IBM “Deep Blue” supercomputer that defeated chess
champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Air Force Space Surveillance

The IBM SP supercomputer is the electronic brain that supports the
Air Force’s Maui Space Surveillance System (MSSS). The MSSS locates,
tracks, and images satellites using ground based telescopes. The
images are then digitally enhanced by the IBM SP supercomputer. With
its tremendous processing capability, the IBM SP uses complex
algorithms to improve images significantly in only three to five
seconds. Objects photographed might include errant communications
satellites and space junk, as well as spacecraft launched by nations
other than the United States.

An Eye on the Sky

The dramatic improvement in image quality produced by the IBM SP
supercomputer allows the government to identify space objects. In
addition, close-up images of damaged spacecraft assist the government
in determining the extent of the damage.

An earlier version of the IBM supercomputer at MHPCC played a key
role in the space shuttle Discovery flight that carried U.S. Senator
John Glenn. NASA officials, concerned that the shuttle’s tail might
have been damaged during liftoff, needed to inspect the rear section
of the Discovery before the ship was allowed to land. The IBM SP
supercomputer was called into action, producing images of the
spacecraft’s tail assembly that showed it had only sustained minor

The earlier supercomputer was used to construct photographs of
some of the nearly 9,000 objects currently orbiting the planet.
Objects in orbit include a wide variety of satellites, as well as a
space glove and a screwdriver inadvertently left behind during
previous manned spaceflight missions.

Copper Microprocessors

The new Maui supercomputer achieves a peak processing capability
of 480 billion calculations per second by harnessing the computing
power of 320 IBM POWER3-II microprocessors, 224 gigabytes of memory
and 2.9 terabytes of IBM disk.

The microprocessors are based on IBM’s revolutionary copper
technology. Microprocessors built with copper provide superior
performance to those that contain traditional aluminum because copper
is a better electrical conductor than aluminum.

“This latest acquisition enables MHPCC to provide DoD researchers
with the newest high performance computing technology to support their
requirements,” said Gene Bal, director of MHPCC. “MHPCC is well
positioned to take a leadership role in providing high performance
computing technology to Hawaii-based DoD organizations, as well as to
the DoD community at large.”

“There is an increasing need for quick turn-round times for
Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) activities by DoD
researchers,” said Cray Henry, Director of the DoD High Performance
Computing Modernization Program. “The additional capability and
increased performance to be deployed at MHPCC will provide DoD
Challenge Projects, our most demanding and highest priority
computational projects, with the ability to solve whole new classes of
problems and provide much improved turnaround times.”

Today’s announcement illustrates IBM’s growing leadership in the
supercomputing market. According to the TOP500 Supercomputer List(a),
IBM systems account for 215 of the world’s 500 most powerful high
performance computers — more than any other vendor. The list was
published on November 3 by supercomputing experts Jack Dongarra from
the University of Tennessee and Erich Strohmaier and Hans Meuer of the
University of Mannheim (Germany).

“The IBM SP supercomputer system at the Maui High Performance
Computing Center demonstrates clearly that IBM’s SP supercomputer is
pushing the boundaries of computing,” said Mike Kerr, vice president
of products, IBM Web Server unit. “The IBM SP supercomputer’s
unmatched performance and scalability enable it to tackle even the
most difficult scientific and technical challenges.”


MHPCC is ranked among the Top 100 most powerful supercomputer
facilities in the world. MHPCC provides DoD, government, private
industry, and academic users with access to leading edge, high
performance technology.

MHPCC is a center of the University of New Mexico established
through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Air Force Research
Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate. MHPCC is a Distributed
Center of the DoD HPCMP, a SuperNode of the National Science
Foundation’s National Computational Science Alliance, and a member of
Hawaii’s growing science and technology community.

(a) View the entire list at