Let's Build A Supercomputer On The Moon

NASA currently controls its deep space missions through a network of huge satellite dishes in California, Spain and Australia known as the Deep Space Network (DSN). Even the Voyager 1 probe relies on these channels to beam data back to Earth as it careers away into space.

But traffic on the network is growing fast, at a rate that the current set-up can't handle. Two new dishes are being built in Australia at the moment to cope with the extra data, but a researcher from University of Southern California has proposed a slightly more radical solution to the problem.

In a presentation to the AIAA Space conference in Pasadena, California, last Thursday, Ouliang Chang suggested that one way to ease the strain would be to build a supercomputer and accompanying radio dishes on the moon. This lunar supercomputer would not only ease the load on terrestrial mission control infrastructure, it would also provide computational power for the "first phase of lunar industrial and settlement development".

Chang suggests that a lunar supercomputer ought to be built on the far side of the moon, set in a deep crater near a pole. This would protect it somewhat from the moon's extreme temperature swings, and might let it tap polar water ice for cooling.

As well as boosting humanity's space-borne communication abilities, the USC presentation also suggests that the moon-based dishes could work in unison with those on Earth to perform very-long-baseline interferometry, which allows multiple telescopes to be combined to emulate one huge telescope.

The challenge of building anything on the moon is clearly high,but the rise of modular data centres may make the IT side of things a little easier. Companies like HP and IBM now build blocks of data centre which can be plugged together on location to provide computing power. Shipping these to the moon would likely be easier than assembling an entire supercomputer on site.

Image: Caspar Benson/Getty Images

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    why would it need cooling, on the dark side of the moon? i assume it is already cold in space.....

      space isn't necesarily cold, infact cooling can be a very big issue on space craft.

      In Earths atmosphere, cooling is generally achieved through energy transfer from a hot object (ie your heat sink) to the air around it. The moons atmosphere is almost non-existant, thus there is very little 'Air' to take away the heat.


      Can tell if troll or just stupid????
      neither side of the moon is permanently dark. It happens to rotate at the same speed as it's orbit around the earth, meaning only one half is visable.


        Which is why it's in a crater on the north pole.

        This means it's in the shade.

          No it means we cant see it .... you know that time of the month where the moon is completely dark? The other side is in full sun


            It's on the north pole of the moon, and recessed in.

            It's never on the opposite side. It's always on top.

            These people are smarter than you or I. They thought about this.

    Wouldn't it, you know, get superseded? And then be a huge joke in 5 years when the Samsung Galaxy SXII is more powerful than it?

      as long as it does its job i dont think people will care. like the new mars rover. less powerful than an iphone but still works.

      efficient software > processing power

      They said it was modular meaning more powerful processers would be able to be attached as they come out, and making it easy to update its power

    The computers would need power and the only solution for that is solar so parts of the supercomputer will need to in the sun at all times or at least the solar array will need to be. The computers can be cooled by space but I don't know how they would survive in such such conditions, the computers I can only imagine would need air and that means enclosing the computers and that means heat will build up so this is what testing is for. Put a normal computer in space and turn it on I guess

    I'm just impressed that they've developed the technology to beam signals through solid rock the diameter of the moon, otherwise how else would we communicate with it? (The moon's orbit is about 5* geostationary orbit distance)

      You do know they invented satellites years ago right?

      Relay satellite in a lagrange point.

    Haven't the Nazi's already built one there?

    No the dark side of the moon only is dark when it is facing away from us and the sun. It is in bright daylight when it is facing the sun.

    Expensive when it needs a hard reboot. On a serious note, you'd probably immerse the whole thing in liquid CFC for cooling.

    I love that I'm alive to read that someone from NASA has said "first phase of lunar industrial and settlement development" completely serious, with a straight face.

    Also just reminds me of Dr. Evil admitting "..I don't know phases"

      Yesterday it was Warp Drive, today it is lunar super computers. Glad it isn't April.

    Why go through the extra cost of a moon landing (You will need to build a lander, and if it is on the far-side you will also need a non-solar energy source and an intermediate satellite or two for communication to Earth) when it would be just as practical to host it on a Satellite if you are going to have to get it up there anyway. Plenty of Solar power available to satellites to keep the cooling on. Also if it is on the moon, serviceability would be next to none if there is a malfunction. If you have an ISS datacentre module, the staff are there if need be.

    Good, get the internet happening on moon first, then I'll consider the move.

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