Network space

The European Space Agency will develop grid computing technology to aid research, overcome communication problems with its disparate centres and partner organisations, and reduce costs.

The method combines the processing power of many linked computers and is seen as the next stage of computing. A two-year ESA study known as SpaceGrid recommended its use at its last meeting at the end of May.

The study found spacecraft design, tele-monitoring, solar science and Earth observation could all benefit.

However the study also concluded that grid computing needed development for the benefits to be realised. The problems include standardising grid software, interoperability with other internet services, security and connection speeds. By the end of the year ESA is aiming to begin two new projects to develop the technology in the areas of observ-ation and remote testing but no budget has currently been agreed for either.

An ESA spokesperson explained that if the technical obstacles could be overcome the potential for video and audio conferencing alone could help reduce the difficulty in having people in different locations working on the same project. This issue has led to higher costs because at certain stages during a project all personnel have to gather in one place. With grid technology communication, he said, the disparate geography issue could be resolved.

As well as improved group co-operation across distances, research that could be directly aided includes mechanical analysis, collaborative engineering and prototype design.

The grid envisaged for these tasks would have computer ‘nodes’ using 10GB databases with 2Ghz microprocessors linked by network connection speeds of up to 100MB per second.

Key benefits in the area of mechanical analyses are the processing of large quantities of data, automatic model updates and the near real time dissemination of test data.