For many years, aeronautical researchers have used computer design techniques to create mathematical models of aircraft and "fly" them by computer simulation, thus allowing study of many different configurations before settling on a final design. Called computational simulation, this technique has expanded enormously, not only in aeronautics but in many other areas of science and engineering.
High performance computing is essential to virtually all of NASA's major programs; it supports all phases of NASA activity from formulation of hypotheses to conceptual design to analysis to mission operations. In aeronautics it is vital not only to NASA's own technology, but to NASA's mission of supporting and enhancing the competitiveness of the U.S. civil aircraft manufacturing industry. In Earth sciences and space sciences, high performance computing has enabled NASA to make significant strides in weather/climate research, galactic evolution studies and solid Earth modeling.
Although NASA has achieved a supercomputing capability of several billion FLOPS (floating points per second), even that tremendous capability will not be adequate for the computational demands of tomorrow, because complex future flight vehicles will be more difficult to simulate. Similarly, existing computer systems are not adequate to the needs of astrophysical investigation and modeling Earth's atmosphere and oceans to determine the extent, causes and consequences of global climate change.
To help bring about the advanced supercomputing capability needed, NASA is conducting a High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) program as part of a broader federal HPCC effort intended to support a wide range of economic and social goals, including HPCC networks and advanced software for the National Information Infrastructure. The NASA HPCC program is conducted under the guidance of the agency's Office of Aeronautics; Ames Research Center is the lead center, assisted by Langley Research Center and Lewis Research Center.
The immediate aim of the NASA HPCC program is achievement of sustained computational speeds of one trillion FLOPS. NASA, in cooperation with an industry consortium headed by IBM Corporation, is developing applications software and algorithms for scalable parallel computing systems that will enable attainment of the goal by 1997.
The technologies being developed will be applied to designing and simulating advanced aerospace vehicles, including commercial transports; increasing scientists' abilities to model Earth's climate and forecast global environmental trends; advancing astronomy and astrophysics research; and improving the data-gathering capabilities of future spacecraft. Additionally, the NASA HPCC effort seeks to apply computing technologies to such non-aerospace areas as elementary and secondary education; experiments in packet video over the Internet; digital libraries; and applications for remote sensing.
The aeronautics segmen of the HPCC program is the Computational AeroSciences component, centered at Ames Research Center. There NASA and the industry consortium are installing additional supercomputers for cooperative testing. The main testbed is Ames' Numerical Aeronautics Simulation (NAS) facility, a national supercomputer compled linked to more than 1,200 industry/university/government scientists by the national computer network AEROnet.
The expanded system at Ames Research Center will greatly augment other scalable parallel computers to provide research platforms for systems software, virtual wind tunnels, critical disciplines research, and other areas of benefit to government researchers and aerospace manufacturers. At a time when national budget constraints and the interests of U.S. competitiveness dictate sharp focus on cost-reduction measures, the NASA HPCC program offers high potential for economy through faster, more efficient aircraft and spacecraft design.