Using Parallel Computing for the Display and Simulation of the Space Debris Environment

M. Mockel, C. Wiedemann, S. Flegel, J. Gelhaus, P. Vorsmann, H. Klinkrad, H. Krag
TU Braunschweig
Advances in Space Research (16 March 2011)


   author={Moeckel}, M. and {Wiedemann}, C. and {Flegel}, S.~K. and {Gelhaus}, J. and {Klinkrad}, H. and {Krag}, H. and {Voersmann}, P.},

   title={“{Using parallel computing for the display and simulation of the space debris environment}”},

   booktitle={38th COSPAR Scientific Assembly},


   series={COSPAR, Plenary Meeting},




   adsnote={Provided by the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System}


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Parallelism is becoming the leading paradigm in today’s computer architectures. In order to take full advantage of this development, new algorithms have to be specifically designed for parallel execution while many old ones have to be upgraded accordingly. One field in which parallel computing has been firmly established for many years is computer graphics. Calculating and displaying three-dimensional computer generated imagery in real time requires complex numerical operations to be performed at high speed on a large number of objects. Since most of these objects can be processed independently, parallel computing is applicable in this field. Modern graphics processing units (GPUs) have become capable of performing millions of matrix and vector operations per second on multiple objects simultaneously. As a side project, a software tool is currently being developed at the Institute of Aerospace Systems that provides an animated, three-dimensional visualization of both actual and simulated space debris objects. Due to the nature of these objects it is possible to process them individually and independently from each other. Therefore, an analytical orbit propagation algorithm has been implemented to run on a GPU. By taking advantage of all its processing power a huge performance increase, compared to its CPU-based counterpart, could be achieved. For several years efforts have been made to harness this computing power for applications other than computer graphics. Software tools for the simulation of space debris are among those that could profit from embracing parallelism. With recently emerged software development tools such as OpenCL it is possible to transfer the new algorithms used in the visualization outside the field of computer graphics and implement them, for example, into the space debris simulation environment. This way they can make use of parallel hardware such as GPUs and Multi-Core-CPUs for faster computation. In this paper the visualization software will be introduced, including a comparison between the serial and the parallel method of orbit propagation. Ways of how to use the benefits of the latter method for space debris simulation will be discussed. An introduction to OpenCL will be given as well as an exemplary algorithm from the field of space debris simulation.
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