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SGI Improves NASA Designs
Posted Tue May 21, 2002 @05:18PM
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Hardware The goal at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Facility is to provide sufficient computing power to enable scientists and engineers to test their designs in a “virtual wind tunnel.” Traditional wind tunnel testing is time consuming and expensive — requiring the construction or alteration of physical models for each test — and even the most powerful wind tunnel cannot simulate the conditions of the launch and reentry of space vehicles.

Until the arrival of the 1,024-processor SGI Origin 3800 system, the computing power needed to make the virtual wind tunnel a reality was unavailable. Complete modeling of one aircraft configuration during landing required up to a year on a Cray C-90, imposing serious limits on the use of simulation. The Origin 3800 system can run the same configuration in a matter of hours, so, for the first time, scientists can routinely use simulation to validate their designs under varying conditions. “The Origin architecture has created a revolution in computational fluid dynamic at NASA and will fundamentally change the way aircraft are designed in the future,” said Jim Taft, co-director, Terascale applications group.

The ability to do advanced simulation has already proved its value in NASA’s mision to design a new reusable launch vehicle to replace the space shuttle. During simulation of the X-37 drone, designed to be dropped from the space shuttle to test reentry, a serious flaw was discovered that would have led to catastrophic failure. Millions of dollars and months of time were saved because of the advanced capabilities enabled by the Origin 3800 architecture.

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