SGI and Intel are teaming up to build a supercomputer for NASA that they expect will pass the petaflop barrier next year and hit 10 petaflops by 2012. A petaflop is 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

Techs from SGI, a maker of high-performance computers, will begin installing the new supercomputer on 21 May and are expected to have it fully assembled in July. The machine, running quad-core Intel Xeon processors with a total of 20,480-cores, should initially hit 245 teraflops or 245 trillion operations per second.

The machine will be installed at NASA's Advanced Supercomputing facility at the Ames Research Center at the Moffett Federal Airfield in California.

Bill Thigpen, engineering branch chief at NASA, said they need the extra computing power to get astronauts back into space on an entirely new rocket.

"We're designing our next-generation rocket for getting to the moon and then eventually to Mars," said Bill Thigpen, engineering branch chief at NASA. "They're retiring the shuttle and the president has said he wants us to go to the moon. There's a lot to work on."

Aside from designing a new rocket, Thigpen said they plan to use the new supercomputer to model the ocean, study global warming and build the next-generation engine and aircraft. "It's really important to look at what decisions government can make to make things better in the future," he added.

Thigpen declined to say what NASA is paying for the supercomputer or for the upgrades that will be needed to get it to 10 petaflops.

According to SGI, the system will have more than 20,800 gigabytes of memory, which is equal to the memory in average 10,000 desktop PCs. NASA also will be deploying a next-generation SGI InfiniteStorage InfiniBand disk solution, which is designed to store and manage 450 TB of data, an amount five times bigger than the entire print collection of the Library of Congress.

The supercomputer will be made up of 40 racks, each equipped with 512 processor cores and 512GB of memory.