Page last updated at 13:19 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 14:19 UK

Nasa set to join petaflop elite

Supercomputer simulation, C. Henze, Nasa
Nasa has used its supercomputers to study colliding black holes

Nasa is making a bid to join the elite group using supercomputers whose power is measured in petaflops.

By 2009 the US space agency aims to be running a petaflop supercomputer that will be able to do 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

By 2012 it hopes to have boosted the power of this machine to 10 petaflops, to help with modelling and simulation.

If it manages the feat, it will be one of only a few organisations that can tap such vast number-crunching power.

The supercomputer will be installed at Nasa's Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, California, the site of its existing supercomputer facility. Nasa's current top supercomputer, called Columbia, was turned on in 2004 and has a theoretical peak of 88.88 teraflops. This makes it the 20th most powerful supercomputer on the planet, according to the Top 500 Project which compiles a list of the relative performance of these machines.

Running a petaflop computer would catapult Nasa into the top five on this list. Currently, the most powerful supercomputer on Earth is BlueGene/L which has a top speed of 478.2 teraflops.

Petaflop computers are expected to debut in the next release of the Top 500 list which is due in June.

The Pleiades Project, as Nasa has christened its updating project, will enlist the help of Intel and SGI to create the machine.

In a statement Ames Director Pete Worden said the supercomputing facility was needed to enable it "higher fidelity" modelling and simulation of future missions.

Nasa has used its current supercomputer to investigate the performance of hypersonic aircraft, simulate lander deployments and model fabrics for future spacesuits.

"This additional computational performance is necessary to help us achieve breakthrough scientific discoveries," said Mr Worden.

Computers 'hold climate clues'
06 May 08 |  Special Reports
Climate prediction: No model for success
06 May 08 |  Science/Nature
World computer used to fight HIV
04 Apr 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
PC downtime advancing science
04 Apr 08 |  Click
Nasa investigates virtual space
18 Jan 08 |  Technology
Black hole mergers modelled in 3D
19 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific