A Lunar Supercomputer?

Sorry for not blogging. Again. Projects and clients for my software consultancy have been crazy. But, I am pleased to announce the release of my first iOS app, Punk or Metal?!. Please be sure to check it out!

A data center in the moon.

As I was going through my usual rotation of news sites this morning, I found this Wired article about a proposal to put a super computer on the moon. Seriously.

Okay… not the most whacky of proposals I’ve heard for space but why would we do it? From a related New Scientist article:

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.

We have a Deep Space Network! How freak’n awesome is that!

Okay, so we need a wider band to listen on, ideally away from Earth so all our frick’n rock’n roll being bounced off the ionosphere doesn’t interfere. Tell me what would be needed to make that happen, doctor.

The plan is to bury a massive machine in a deep dark crater, on the side of the moon that’s facing away from Earth and all of its electromagnetic chatter. Nuclear-powered, it would process data for space missions and slingshot Earth’s Deep Space Network into a brand new moon-centric era.


His supercomputer would run in frigid regions near one of the moon’s poles. The cold temperatures would make cooling the supercomputer easier, and allow it to use super-efficient superconductive materials to move around electricity. Although it’s not clear how much water could be found on the moon’s poles, Chang envisions a water-cooled supercomputer.

How much would this Lunar supercomputer cost? Well, Chang and Thangavelu say it costs about $50,000 per pound to ship materials to the moon. Add to that the cost of digging out and building out the sub-lunar supercomputer center, cooling system and nuclear power generator, and you can easily envision a project in the $10 billion to $20 billion range, never mind the cost of building a lunar base station. That would easily make it the most expensive supercomputer ever built.

Okay… so beyond sounding like a plan Dr. Evil might come up with, it’ll also cost us an arm and a leg.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea. I just wonder if, for the cost, placing it on the moon would be doing it just so you could say you placed it on the moon.

Thinking longer term, maybe putting something like this on the moon isn’t such a good idea. After all, using the moon as a staging point for other craft is kind of crap since it would require fuel to take back off again–not as much as leaving Earth’s gravity, of course, but still… fuel.

If a super computer in space is what’s required, why not put it at a Lagrange Point and use it as the start for a real space platform that might serve as a jumping off point for other missions, manned or otherwise, throughout the solar system.

Just thinking out loud here…