Upcoming space commercialization will require hardened edge-computing environments in a small footprint with robust links back to Earth, says vendor OrbitsEdge, which recently announced that it had started collaborating with Hewlett Packard Enterprise on computing-in-orbit solutions.
OrbitsEdge says it’s the first to provide a commercial data-center environment for installing in orbit, and will be using HPE’s Edgeline Converged Edge System in a hardened, satellite micro-data-center platform that it’s selling called SatFrame.
The idea is “to run analytics such as artificial intelligence (AI) on the vast amounts of data that will be created as space is commercialized,” says Barbara Stinnett, CEO of OrbitsEdge, in a press release.
Why data in space?
IoT data collection along with analysis and experimental testing are two examples of space industrialization that the company gives as use cases for its micro-data center product. However, commercial use of space also includes imagery, communications, weather forecasting and navigation. Space tourism and commercial recovery of space resources, such as mined raw materials from asteroids are likely to be future space-uses, too.
Also, manufacturing – taking advantage of vacuums and zero-gravity environments – is among the economic activities that could take advantage of number crunching in orbit.
Additionally, Cloud Constellation Corp., a company I wrote about in 2017, unrelated to OrbitsEdge or HPE, reckons highly sensitive data should be stored isolated in space. That would be the “ultimate air-gap security,” it describes its SpaceBelt product.
Why edge in space?
OrbitsEdge believes that data must be processed where it is collected, in space, in order to reduce transmission bottlenecks as streams are piped back to Earth stations. “Due to the new wave of low-cost commercial space activity, the bottleneck will get worse,” the company explains on its website.
What it means is that getting satellites into space is now cheap and is getting cheaper (due primarily to reusable rocket technology), but that there’s a problem getting the information back to traditional cloud environments on the surface of the Earth; there’s not enough backhaul data capacity, and that increases processing costs. Therefore, the cloud needs to move to the data-collection point: It’s “IoT above the cloud,” ObitsEdge cleverly taglines.
How it works
Satellite-mounted solar arrays collect power from the sun. They fill batteries to be used when the satellite is in the shadow of Earth.
Cooling- and radiation-shielding protect a standard 5U, 19-inch server rack. There’s a separate rack for the avionics. Then integrated, traditional space-to-space, and space-to-ground radio communications handle the comms. Future-proofing is also considered: laser data pipes, too, could be supported, the company says.
On Earth option
Interestingly, the company is also pitching its no-maintenance, low Earth orbit (LEO)-geared product as being suitable for terrestrial extreme environments, too. OrbitsEdge claims that SatFrame is robust enough for extreme chemical and temperature environments on Earth. Upselling, it also says that one could combine two micro-data centers: a LEO SatFrame running HPE’s Edgeline, communicating with another one in an extreme on-Earth location—one at the Poles, maybe.
“To keep up with the rate of change and the number of satellites being launched into low Earth orbit, new services have to be made available,” OrbitsEdge says. “Shipping data back to terrestrial clouds is impractical, however today it is the only choice,” it says.