Artist's illustration using binary numbers

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has taken delivery of one of the first models of Cray Research Inc.'s most powerful supercomputer.

The new machine, the Cray T3D, is the company's first parallel supercomputer. Parallel computing uses more than one processor working in tandem to solve a problem.

The machine delivered to JPL uses a network of 256 processors to achieve a peak speed of 38 gigaflops, or 38 billion floating-point mathematical operations per second.

JPL and the California Institute of Technology are participating with Cray Research in a program to rapidly develop application software to evaluate the supercomputer's performance. That program will also make T3D software available to a range of users and to third-party vendors for commercialization.

"The Cray T3D system together with our expertise in parallel processing will allow us to tackle new computational problems in Earth and space sciences," said Dr. Carl Kukkonen, manager of JPL's Supercomputing Project.

"More importantly, we will be able to feed back JPL's and Caltech's experiences to Cray, and thus contribute to maintaining U.S. leadership in supercomputing," he added.

The Cray T3D system will be used at JPL for computationally intensive applications including scientific data visualization, which turns planetary data from spacecraft into three-dimensional animations.

Early JPL-produced animations such as "L.A. The Movie" -which takes the viewer on an aerial ride over Los Angeles -required several days of processing on conventional mainframe computers to produce a minute or two of animation.

By contrast, the Cray T3D will be able to produce animation frames from spacecraft pictures at the rate of several frames per second -- meaning that the supercomputer could function like a real-time flight simulator in which the operator flies over highly detailed landscapes.

Other JPL applications for the Cray T3D include electromagnetic simulations for the design of communication antennas and other high-frequency components; analysis of Earth satellite data; studying the dynamics of chemical reactions; examining the flow of space plasmas; and computational fluid dynamics.

The supercomputer acquisition is one of NASA's responses to the national multi-agency High Performance Computing and Communications program, which seeks to advance U.S. capabilities in supercomputing.

The project is funded by NASA's Office of Aeronautics; NASA's Office of Space Science; and NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth.

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