Superconducting S.QU.I.D.s in Space

~ the Cryotron of 50’s fame will return as our future supercomputers ~

Photo by Karan Karnik on Unsplash

TL;DR — Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (“S.Qu.I.D.s”) are a rare and bizarre kind of computer circuit, a form of ‘Cryotron’, which itself was a revolutionary computer developed by Dudley Buck in the 1950s! They operate at TeraHertz frequency — that is, their switches flip a thousand times faster than our clunky silicon chips today. That’s worth an extra 20 years of Moore’s Law! They were abandoned, because they require ultra-cold, and fabrication of silicon was so much easier. Yet, space is ultra-cold, and new research into superconducting circuits made those cryotrons a much more attractive option. Expect orbiting satellites to do more than beam you the internet — they’ll be your cloud-compute as well.

The Fork in the Timeline

It’s the story of what could-have-been — with a patent from a young researcher in 1953, six years before our silicon luminaries created the first MOSFET, we had in-hand a computer technology with performance that stands ahead of the rest even now, nearly 70 years later. It just took too much equipment to keep everything cold, back then!

And, all the quirky details of the quantum world, all those nuanced balancing-acts of equations, were beyond the ken of any slide-rule. Sure, there was no way we could have made it all work perfectly, back then… but we might have given it more thought. And a few researchers have done that, now, with un-imagined results! Numerous other roadblocks will invariably arise, yet the thirst and the hunt has begun. There is real value to these sorts of computer chips, especially in space.

SQUIDS in Space

Because space is so empty, it’s really easy to vent heat AND send signals. With solar power, everything is gravy! Those qualities make it perfect for all our data-center and supercomputer needs. And, it connects to everyone without fiber cables everywhere — great!

It’s also important because, with better superconductors for these devices, there is increased demand for obscure metals… that we will prefer to mine from asteroids that might otherwise kill us, instead of strip-mining rainforests. Robotic fabs in space will be tasked with batches of these SQUIDs, made from the choice traces of meteorites, because that chain of supply is so many times cheaper than hauling chips from Earth, and no Earth-facing company needs to supply us such chips here on our too-hot planet.

SQUIDs advantages will capture market-share — folks won’t have as many computers, here on Earth, because any satellite gives you the supercomputer for pennies instead of dollars. Crypto-folks would keep their rigs, sure. But all our super-AI software? That’ll be running-in-orbit, holding the jugular of our global communications and services. Have you heard of AI Safety Research?



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