Firefly Aerospace, a start-up based in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, is building a rocket to fly to the moon. No, this isn’t a remake of “A Grand Day Out With Wallace and Gromit,” in which the animated duo go to the lunar surface on a search for cheese; it’s a real company. It’s also an example of how the ubiquitous availability of high-performance computing through the internet has unleashed a global wave of creativity. The “cloud,” that fuzzy euphemism for networks of massive computer farms that anyone can access with a laptop and a credit card, has put even the wildest dreams within reach of people with enough know-how.
Building complex physical systems like semiconductors or sub- marines requires intensive computer simulations before commit- ting money to bending steel for a prototype, let alone putting space- craft into production. Those simulations require vast computations that were previously done on supercomputers available only to
governments or the most well-heeled corporations. “New rocket companies like Firefly, Virgin Orbit and SpaceX could not thrive when I was an engineer at Boeing, 15 years ago,” said Joris Poort, founder and chief executive of Rescale, a company that orchestrates high-performance computing in the cloud. “You’d have to have raised hundreds of millions of dollars at that time just to build the computer infrastructure to run the simulations.”