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NASA, Intel, SGI launch supercomputer project

Program dubbed "Pliades" would vastly improve speed and capacity, allowing supercomputers "to push the limits of scientific discovery."

NASA, Intel, and SGI announced today that they are collaborating on a groundbreaking initiative that promises to vastly improve performance of the space agency's supercomputer operations, "enabling them to push the limits of scientific discovery."

The space shuttle Atlantis NASA

Under a joint project dubbed "Pleiades," the three partners plan to develop a modeling and simulation system of unprecedented speed and capacity in the nation's space program. Specifically, they hope to produce computational performance of 1 petaflop (a quadrillion operations per second) by 2009 and 10 petaflops by 2012.

What does that mean, exactly? A task that would take six months to complete on a PC could be done in 1 hour by the Pleiades system, according to an Intel spokesman. Or, put another way, it's analogous to a 6-hour cross-country flight taking just 1 second.

For NASA, the benefits of the initiative are far more than just theoretical: Its predecessor, Project Columbia, allowed engineers to simulate emergencies in time to avoid space shuttle disasters. The partners say there is a green element to Pleiades as well, a goal to design new aircraft that are 70 percent more fuel-efficient than today's models and make only a fraction of the noise.