by Debra Werner — January 24, 2022
Australian startup Spiral Blue is testing prototype of its Space Edge Zero computer on SatRevolution of Poland’s Earth-observation satellites. Credit: SatRevolution
The latest Apple Watch has 16 times the memory of the central processor on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. For the new iPhone, 64 times the car-size rover’s memory comes standard.
For decades, people dismissed comparisons of terrestrial and space-based processors by pointing out the harsh radiation and temperature extremes facing space-based electronics. Only components custom built for spaceflight and proven to function well after many years in orbit were considered resilient enough for multibillion-dollar space agency missions.
While that may still be the best bet for high-profile deep space missions, spacecraft operating closer to Earth are adopting state-of-the-art onboard processors. Upcoming missions will require even greater computing capability.
Satellite sensors produce “an enormous amount of data in the form of scientific research, Earth observation, national security,” Naeem Altaf, IBM distinguished engineer and IBM Space Tech chief technology officer, said by email. “To extract the quick value of data, we will need to bring compute closer to data.”
Consider Earth observation. Traditionally, electro-optical imagery and synthetic-aperture radar data have been sent to the ground for processing. That’s still largely the case, but new Earth-observation sensors continue expanding the volume of data acquired in orbit, sometimes quite dramatically. At the same time, customers are eager for speedy access to insights drawn from various datasets.
Weather observation is a good example. Numerical weather models merge vast quantities of data drawn for space, airborne, maritime and terrestrial sensors. While no one proposes running the forecasting algorithms on satellites, AAC Clyde Space, the Swedish company supplying the core avionics for the European Space Agency’s Arctic Weather Satellite, sees improvements in onboard processing as a way to speed up weather data delivery.
“We see an opportunity in the future to do a lot of processing on board: preparing data, compressing data and starting to fuse data,” said Luis Gomes, AAC Clyde Space CEO. “Our objective is real-time weather observations from space. For that, we need to package the data efficiently and effectively to reduce the amount of time that we are downlinking.”
Hyperspectral sensors also produce huge datasets that make onboard processing “quite critical,” Gomes said.
Some of the new satellite computers will be devoted to crunching sensor data. Others will help spacecraft choreograph complex operations.
Future satellites are likely to operate in swarms, communicating through intersatellite links and working together to capture unique datasets and extend communications networks. Eventually, constellations will employ artificial intelligence to solve problems by, for example, healing or repositioning satellites based on onboard analysis of their health and performance, which will require extensive edge processing, said Chuck Beames, chairman of the SmallSat Alliance, an industry association.
Edge processing, bringing computation closer to data sources, is increasingly popular on Earth. Oil and gas companies, for example, analyze data near sensors that monitor heavy equipment at remote sites to quickly identify equipment problems and to trim communications and data storage expenses.
Companies ranging from IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise to startups around the world are positioning themselves to meet what they see as inevitable demand for enhanced space-based edge processing, beginning onboard satellites and extending to data centers in Earth and lunar orbit.
An artist’s rendering of Japan’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid mission passing near Earth. Israeli startup Ramon.Space supplied computing technology for the Japanese Space Agency mission. Credit: JAXA
Exodus Orbitals, a Canadian startup that rents satellite services to software application developers, established the Edge Computing in Space Alliance in November. The organization quickly attracted nearly two dozen members.
One of the members, Ramon.Space, advertises “space-resilient supercomputing systems.” While they bear little resemblance to terrestrial supercomputers, they are far different from low capacity spaceflight computers and “a lot closer to the kind of computing capability that we have on Earth,” said Lisa Kuo, vice president of strategic sales for Ramon.Space, an Israeli firm established in 2004 that is expanding internationally. “We go over space computing systems with a very fine-tooth comb and adopt the optimal radiation-hardening technique for each component.”
In contrast to the bespoke approach, startup Exo-Space of Pasadena, California, offers FeatherEdge, a platform that applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to Earth observation data to quickly extract valuable information.
Long term, Exo-Space plans to “adapt the technology to the more general-purpose use cases like constellation management or predictive maintenance,” said CEO Jeremy Allam.
Sydney-based Spiral Blue also applies artificial intelligence to Earth imagery with its Space Edge computer.
“Satellites can capture far more data than they can actually bring down,” said Taofiq Huq, Spiral Blue founder and CEO. With improved onboard processing, satellites can highlight and downlink the most important information, like ship locations for maritime vessel tracking, he added.
Other firms specialize in packaging terrestrial computers for spaceflight. OrbitsEdge, for example, works with customers including HPE to provide radiation shielding and thermal management systems that allow computers designed for terrestrial applications to function in orbit.
“By relying on the high-power computation pipeline, we have assurances that whatever we’re flying is the most modern stuff,” said Rick Ward, chief technology officer and founder of the Titusville, Florida-based OrbitsEdge. “When we segue to quantum computing, and we’ve already had conversations with some of the quantum computing companies, we can do that as well.”
Cosmic Shielding Corp. takes a similar approach but instead of focusing on safeguarding processors, the Atlanta startup developed a 3D-printed polymer to protect people and electronics in orbit.
“You can build a satellite bus out of this material, and it will provide significant improvements,” said Yanni Barghouty, Cosmic Shielding founder and CEO. “Right now, we’re seeing around a 60 to 70-percent radiation dose-rate reduction versus traditional materials.”
In addition to enhancing onboard processing, companies are installing edge processors in ground stations and making plans to launch constellations devoted to data processing.
“Edge computing can be performed at different segments, depending upon the use case and the criticality of data,” said IBM’s Altaf. “We can have dedicated compute satellites, which are tasked to take on the heavy payloads in orbit and perform computation services for other satellites.”
If history is any guide, demand for data processing in orbit will continue to climb. Successive generations of terrestrial applications invariably require additional memory and processing speed.
In space, like on the ground, “you want it faster, you want better networking, and you want more power,” said Mark Fernandez, HPE principal investigator for the Spaceborne Computer-2 on the International Space Station.
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
by Debra Werner — January 24, 2022
Q&A with Mark Fernandez, principal investigator for HPE's Spaceborne Computer-2
Since traveling in February 2020 to the International Space Station, Spaceborne Computer-2 has completed 20 experiments focused on health care, communications, Earth observation and life sciences. Still, the queue for access to the off-the-shelf commercial computer linked to Microsoft’s Azure cloud keeps growing.
Mark Fernandez, principal investigator for Spaceborne Computer-2, sees a promising future for space-based computing. He expects increasingly capable computers to be installed on satellites and housed in orbiting data centers in the coming years. Edge processors will crunch data on the moon, and NASA’s lunar Gateway will host advanced computing resources, Fernandez told SpaceNews.
Fernandez, who holds a doctorate in scientific computing from the University of Southern Mississippi, served as software payload developer for HPE’s original Spaceborne Computer, a supercomputer that reached ISS in August 2017 and returned to Earth a year and a half later in a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule.
Small clusters at the edge are positioned as supercomputers because they are more than just a tiny edge device. We called Spaceborne-1 a supercomputer because we did one teraflop of computation in space. That’s orders of magnitude more than anyone had ever done before.
What is surprising to me is the diversity of the experiments. We have 39 experiments in the queue, and the number of experiments is growing.
We’re analyzing astronaut DNA. That one, in particular, is pleasing to me because the scientists had been waiting weeks or months to get this big DNA sequence down to Earth to analyze it. You can compare this big dataset to the big human genome, but you’re only interested in the mutations.
Well, it took us about 13 minutes of processing and then about two seconds to download it. Suddenly, the scientists said instead of monitoring the health of one astronaut every month, they could monitor the whole crew daily and get a better idea of when space travel is adversely affecting them.
We’re looking at how satellites communicate with each other. Different types of encryption, different types of protocols, different types of compression.
A lot of experiments have to do with weather and disaster preparation. High-resolution imagery of storms and tornadoes are large data files. Basically, the first responders just want to know where the forest fire is. What is the track of the tornado? You can tell them that in just a few words.
A picture takes forever to get down. We can process that. I want to know where it’s flooded and not flooded. I want to know if the interstate is passable or not.
That’s the first layer of the onion that we’re exploring. It’s an intelligent edge. We don’t want to push all the computation to the edge. We don’t want to push all the computation to the cloud. If I have a multi-step workflow, I can do two or three steps at the edge. But I’m far better off bursting that smaller, mid-workflow results to the cloud.
It goes back to astronaut DNA. Mutations are updated all the time in databases at the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute. We have the cloud search those databases.
We’ve got some serious propeller-head scientists running things only on the cloud or only in space on Spaceborne Computer. They differentiate it. They run it only on the CPU, only on the GPU. They are coming up with guidelines.
The analog is autonomous driving. Just as all the cars will be talking to each other, all these satellites will be talking to each other. One of them is going to raise their hand and say, “I’ve got good connectivity down to Earth. I’ll deliver that message.” Then, they all agree.
Yes, indeed. OrbitsEdge is putting up a satellite with multiple distinct computers from HPE. To you, it looks like your computer on your satellite. But they’re actually hosting multiple computers from multiple people completely firewalled off from each other because they are on physically separate devices. They can run whatever protocols they want and whatever communications they like.
When we get to the moon, the data center and the high-performance computing will be orbiting the moon, and the outposts will be the edge.
They’re all related to space exploration. Power, cooling and networking are not stable. Networking is the most unstable. There are multiple times a day [on ISS] when we don’t have connectivity. If this was your cellphone, you would go get a new provider. But the space station doesn’t have an option.
If OrbitsEdge gets its proof-of-concept going and can have a multi-tenant satellite, the next logical step is a multi-tenant data center built out of larger satellites. OrbitsEdge focuses on power, cooling and networking. They’re leaving that compute to us.
On the moon, you would have low energy communication up to the Gateway. The Gateway will have the power, cooling and storage. A similar architecture is being considered for the Mars outpost.
Yes, you want it faster, you want better networking, and you want more power. No one has complained that they have plenty of Spaceborne Computer right now. They ask, “When can I get back on it?”
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
There are good reasons to send 19-inch racks into orbit, and beyond.
Maria Korolov | Jan 18, 2022
Last year marked the first time humanity deployed a conventional data center in space. The HPE Spaceborne Computer-2 – a set of HPE Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge and HPE ProLiant machines, each with an Nvidia T4 GPU to support AI workloads – was sent to the International Space Station in February of 2021.
This is the first off-the-shelf server deployed in space to run actual production workloads.
"It is not hardened," said Mark Fernandez, principal investigator for Spaceborne Computer-2 at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. "The goal is to avoid the time and cost to harden a computer, so you can go with the latest technology."
Elsewhere in space – on Mars landers, in satellites, in space station control systems – most of the computers are decades old.
"The hardened processors available today are circa 1995, 1996," Fernandez told Data Center Knowledge. Not only are they slow but it's hard to find developers who can write software for these machines, he said.
Plus, all of today's applications are designed to run on modern computers.
The ISS itself runs on Intel 80286SX CPUs that date back to the late 1980s. There are also more than a hundred laptops on the ISS, as well as tablets and other devices. They are used as remote terminals to the command and control multiplexer demultiplexer computers, as well as for email, Internet, and recreation.
Key systems run on hardened hardware that is protected against radiation. That means that they use either redundant circuits or insulating substrates instead of the usual semiconductor wafers on chips.
Developing such a computer takes years, as does testing. Missions are also planned years in advance. By the time such a computer gets to space, it's woefully out of date.
"We want to take data center quality pizza boxes up to space," Fernandez said. To solve the problem of protecting the computers against radiation, HPE decided to try using software.
The first attempt to put a server in space, the Spaceborne Computer-1, was launched in 2017 and spent nearly two years up on the space station, though the mission was only scheduled to run for one year.
That mission had three goals, according to Fernandez.
"First, can you take a computer right off the factory floor, package it up to fit on a rocket and get it a space station," he said. "Second, can you train astronauts to install it and get it working. And third, once it's working, will it give you the right answers, and for how long?"
Spaceborne Computer-1 sat in a locker on the ISS. The lockers are designed to mount inside a space station. Inside that locker, HPE put a standard 19-inch rack, Fernandez said. "So we didn't have to modify the servers at all."
That first mission had two servers, running a suite of internationally recognized benchmarks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
"We had to prove it worked," Fernandez said. "We wanted to stress the CPU, stress the memory, stress the disks. With the benchmarks, you know what the results are supposed to be, so when the job finishes, you can see if you got the right answer. We did 50,000 benchmarks and not once did we get an error."
The same benchmarks were run on Earth on an identical system.
The servers were still working when NASA shut them down and brought them back down to Earth.
"They wanted to take a look at them," he said.
The space-based system had 20 solid state disk drives, of which nine had failed over the course of the mission. With the Earth-based twins, only one drive had failed.
"We also had five times the number of correctable errors on space than on Earth," said Fernandez. "But they were correctable, and corrected themselves. So we're good there. The main concern was the solid state disks. That's where we paid the most attention in Spaceborne 2."
This time, NASA also wanted a system that would last for at least three years – the length of time it would take to go to Mars and back. So HPE doubled the hardware; now there are four servers total, two in each locker.
Spaceborne Computer-2 includes the off-the-shelf HPE Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge System, a rugged server designed to perform in harsher edge environments with higher shock, vibration, and temperature levels. It's paired with the industry standard HPE ProLiant DL360.
"The Edgeline 4000 includes a GPU so we can do AI, machine learning, and image processing," Fernandez said.
As of mid-December, none of the drives in the new system have failed, he said. However, the servers aren't running the intense benchmarks they were running before, so the computers aren't stressed as much. This time around, the Spaceborne 2 is running actual production workloads.
It may be small, but the first edge computing data center is now operational in outer space.
One of the jobs it's doing is DNA analysis. Previously, astronauts would have their DNA tested once a month, and the data sent down to Earth for processing.
Now the processing takes place on the ISS, and just the results are sent down to Earth. It reduces the amount of data that needs to be transmitted by 20,000 times, Fernandez said.
"Now the scientists here on Earth are about to think about things that weren't even conceivable before," he said. "When I can process the data in 13 minutes and download the results in two seconds, I can monitor astronaut health daily instead of monthly."
Researchers can also analyze the DNA of rodents and plants on the ISS, he said.
"Another big area is communications research. That includes work related to 5G and beyond communications testing and simulations, satellite-to-satellite communications, different communication protocols, different security algorithms, different encryption algorithms, and also new protocols for satellites to send data down to Earth.”
Image processing is another top use case for space-based data centers, Fernandez said. Cameras in orbit collect massive numbers of images from Earth, but there's a limit to how much can be downloaded.
Much of the images are of clouds, or empty seas. What people are actually interested in is what's changing in the images, Fernandez said. "Where is it flooded in Houston after the hurricane? Is this road still passable after the flood? You want to get information to the first responders as soon as possible."
The obvious use cases involve simple counting. How many cars are in the store parking lot? How much construction equipment is still on the site? How many container ships are in port?
This particular use case is still in the proof-of-concept stage, Fernandez said, where the recipients use the Spaceborne computer to do the processing in parallel with their existing systems. "I want to know, did I get the correct answer, and how much sooner did I get it to you than you got it the normal way?"
That's when the light bulbs go off, he said, and customers realize that they need this kind of processing on their next satellite.
Of course, putting a data center on a satellite has a different set of challenges than putting it in the ISS. The ISS internal environment is human-friendly. The temperature levels are regulated, and there's air, and human hands are around to fix anything that needs fixing.
The need for air to cool the servers has already been addressed. Both Spaceborne 1 and Spaceborne 2 were water cooled, Fernandez said.
"We're allowed to tap into the water cooling loop on the space station," he said.
To make all of it happen, HPE is working with a partner, OrbitsEdge.
"Our plan is to build a box that does radiation shielding and thermal management so whatever we put in that box can fly and work," said Rick Ward, founder and CTO at OrbitsEdge.
The OrbitsEdge satellite system is shaped roughly like an umbrella with solar panels on top to collect energy and provide shade for the computer below it. Then, at the very bottom, there are radiators that send excess heat directly into space.
In other words, power and cooling are free.
Ward didn't go into detail about how exactly the cooling system works. "It's not water, but something else that works as an integrated cooling system and radiation shield," he told Data Center Knowledge. "But I can't say anything beyond that."
The first demonstration satellite is expected to launch before the end of 2022.
Eventually, Ward said, he expects to see servers not just in satellites and the ISS and the new commercial space stations, but on the Lunar Gateway space station and on the moon itself, and also on Mars, and in orbit around Mars.
The earliest use case will be imaging satellites, he said. "That's our low-hanging fruit."
The goal here is to lower the barriers to entry for pace operations and make space computing similar to any other kind of edge computing, he said.
Adding computing power to satellites that are already scheduled to go up is a simple use case and will make those satellites more valuable.
As launch costs come down, special-purpose constellations of satellites that are just designed for data processing can be sent up to handle space-based workloads.
"I will say five years from now, there will exist an operational capability to process space data in space," Ward said.
At some point it will become possible to considerably expand the computing power available in space, either because the launch costs will drop dramatically, or because of space-based manufacturing of computer equipment.
At that point, space-based data centers can start handling workloads for Earth-based customers, he said.
Terrestrial data centers have high power costs and use valuable real estate, of which there's a limited supply. In space, there's no clouds to get in between the sun and the solar panels, and cooling is free.
Today's data centers have relatively low initial costs, the cost of the building and equipment, but the ongoing operating costs never stop, Ward said. "In space, you invert that. You have a high upfront cost, but your ongoing costs are significantly lower."
Space-based data centers can offer other advantages. Quantum computing, for example, requires extremely low temperatures. In space, you can get down to extremely low temperatures simply by keeping the computer in the shade. And there's no vibration in space.
And space-based manufacturing allows new kinds of lithography, perfect crystals, and other advantages over terrestrial facilities.
Putting data centers in space makes good business sense, HPE's Fernandez said: "We're doing a lot of proofs of concept and experiments. The volume of those indicates to me that this is a market."
Another company that plans to start early trials of a space-based data center platform is NTT, which is working in partnership with Japan’s SKY Perfect JSAT Holdings.
The company plans for a number of satellites with computing and storage capabilities that form a single data center via optical links. The first satellites that make up this network are expected to launch by 2025.
"We've almost finished designing the basic architecture of this system," NTT spokesperson Daisuke Kawano told Data Center Knowledge. "We've already received positive feedback from potential customers around the world."
The on-board computing will speed up data downloads from satellites, he said. Second, computing power can reduce the amount of information that needs to be transmitted by compressing it, or analyzing it in space.
"We expect more competitors to emerge next year with the same concept," Kawano said.
Last year the European Space Agency launched the PhiSat-1, the first satellite with AI processing on board. The PhiSat-1 uses Intel's Movidius Myriad 2 chip, an off-the-shelf technology not specifically designed for space travel.
There's still a lot of work that needs to be done before we see a full-scale space data center industry, said North Dakota State University computer science professor Jeremy Straub, an expert in space-based computing.
Launch costs need to fall further, he told Data Center Knowledge.
"We also need more infrastructure in space," he added.
He agreed that it makes sense to add more computing powers to satellites, though he wouldn't call this an example of data centers in space.
"I would also expect a lot of computing on space stations," he said. "We'll see a server room, to support activities on the station. It won't really be a data center in the sense of serving others, and not the same size as you typically think of in a data center."
July 26, 2021 Dan Rabb, Bisnow Data Centers Reporter
Tech billionaires are launching themselves into orbit, and now data centers are heading to space as well.
Space-based data centers are close to becoming a reality, as an ever-growing flood of satellite data necessitates processing and storage in orbit around the Earth. At the same time, a planned lunar data center is at the heart of an international effort to build a permanent settlement on the moon.
While no one will confuse the lunar surface with Virginia's Loudoun County anytime soon, industry insiders focused on the intersection of rack space and outer space say off-Earth data centers will be a springboard for innovation and commercial applications in space.
On the horizon? Lunar laboratories, space-based drones, autonomous spacecraft and other technologies — and that's just the beginning.
“This is going to be a bedrock piece of infrastructure for a fully developed space information ecosystem,” said Richard Ward, the founder of space data startup OrbitsEdge, which plans to launch a constellation of edge data centers into orbit starting next year.
“We're looking at it as a utility, and I think it’s eventually going to be considered as vital as electricity in terms of the possibilities it opens up.”
While data centers in space may pave the way for innovation from the realm of science fiction, a market for off-Earth computing and storage is already here.
Commercial spaceflight has driven down the cost of launching satellites and other equipment, and a torrent of data now constantly floods back to Earth from imaging and remote sensing satellites used to study everything from traffic patterns to ocean temperature.
This explosion of data has helped drive global demand for terrestrial data centers and cloud capacity — both Microsoft and Google created cloud platforms specifically for this market, building satellite links into data centers and developing cloud-based command and control services.
So why move that processing power to space? Experts say that the operators of these satellites want to avoid having to use another expensive resource: the transmission link to the ground.
A significant percentage of the information collected by remote sensing equipment is of little or no value, said North Dakota State University computer science professor Jeremy Straub, an expert in space-based computing.
A satellite used to study agricultural yields may still generate images when the satellite isn’t over farmland or when the ground is obscured by clouds. That’s a lot of useless information that requires money, time and energy to transmit.
“Processing the data that’s collected in space using a space-based system allows you to make use of the transmission link more effectively,” Straub said. “You can process the data in space to separate just the most important data, which allows you to reduce cost and to send it back to Earth more quickly.”
Often called orbital edge computing, this kind of simple automated space-based data processing is already in use commercially by a number of operators. Satellites launched by San Francisco-based Loft Orbital, which colocates payloads from multiple clients, include a central computing hub capable of running multiple processing tasks simultaneously for different payloads.
But the first true space data centers — satellites bearing enterprise servers that remotely provide advanced processing power and connectivity for other space-based infrastructure — are still likely a year or more away from launch.
In the U.S., Florida-based OrbitsEdge expects to activate the first of 30 planned data center satellites by the end of 2022. Each satellite is effectively an edge data center similar to what might be found on Earth, with a modular rack designed to accommodate off-the-shelf servers. Initially, these units will house Hewlett Packard Enterprise servers, currently in their second round of testing on the International Space Station as part of a broader effort to adapt computing hardware to the harsh environment of space.
The increased exposure to radiation outside the Earth’s atmosphere presented one of the most significant engineering problems, OrbitsEdge CEO Richard Ward said. Even after developing a proprietary casing that blocks much of the particle bombardment, he expects the servers to have a shelf life of just five years.
Developing cooling systems that operate without monitoring also presented challenges, according to Ward — although he and other experts point to some advantages of space for data centers. While solar energy may be unpredictable on Earth, the energy available for solar panels in space can be predicted precisely years in advance.
Ward said that, while he expects these data centers to be used mainly to process imaging data at first, they will eventually enable everything from advanced research space-based labs to autonomous spacecraft. He said space-based data centers are the missing piece of infrastructure needed to create an information ecosystem that will open the floodgates of innovation and commercialization in space.
“Optimizing and improving Earth observation data is just the low-hanging fruit,” Ward said.
The European Space Agency shares the view that data centers in space are needed to make space more accessible to both governments and private industry. They’re looking at building one on the moon.
In May, the ESA contracted Italian aerospace firm Thales Alenia to study the feasibility of establishing a lunar data center in the next decade. The future facility is being studied as a central element of the ESA’s joint effort with NASA to establish research stations and self-sustaining settlements on the moon.
ESA’s Moonlight Initiative, along with NASA’s Artemis mission, aims to build lunar infrastructure as both a test run for Mars and as a tool to stimulate space commercialization. The building blocks of a future telecommunications network around the moon — such as a GPS-like lunar navigation system and space-based 4G nodes — are in the works.
These projects envision permanent science colonies on the lunar surface – with laboratories for experiments and base camps for lunar exploration using drones and autonomous vehicles. Remote computing power and data storage are key elements of these plans, but terrestrial data centers are of limited utility for many applications. It takes information about 1.5 seconds to travel from the moon to Earth.
That kind of latency is a non-starter when the computing is being used for tasks like helping an astronaut fly a drone over the moon’s surface.
Reduced latency for space-based computing is a key element of making space travel more accessible, according to ESA officials. If any of the computing functions on a spacecraft can be handled remotely, that means less hardware that has to be specifically designed for that mission, less development time and, perhaps most importantly, less money.
“We see this as significantly reducing the cost and complexity of subsequent individual expeditions,” said Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, speaking to media following the project’s announcement.
“It will be a base for future exploration and economic activity of the sort that we can only begin imagining today, and starting to put that infrastructure in place is essential.”
Do space-based data centers have any utility for current data storage or processing needs on Earth? The next time Jeff Bezos goes to space, will it be to scout locations for the next AWS facility?
The final frontier makes for bad real estate when it comes to today’s Earthly colocation or cloud computing needs, North Dakota State’s Straub said. Just the cost of transporting the necessary materials into space would far exceed the cost of building a new data center anywhere in the world.
“The economics don’t make sense, and they won’t at any point in the foreseeable future,” Straub said. “Are we going to be launching server racks into space because it’s cheaper than building a data center in Houston? No.”
Contact Dan Rabb at email@example.com
By Doug Mohney | June 30, 2020
As the cost of building and launching satellites continues to drop, melding IT concepts with satellite operations to bring data center services into Earth orbit and beyond is emerging as the next big thing. Colocation of server hardware, virtually running applications in the cloud, and edge computing are all familiar concepts to the data center world, but the space industry wants to apply those ideas into satellite-based business models.
Until recently, satellite hardware and software were tightly tied together and purpose-built for a single function. The introduction of commercial-off-the-shelf processors, open standards software, and standardized hardware is enabling companies to repurpose orbiting satellites for different tasks by simply uploading new software and allowing the sharing of a single satellite by hosting hardware for two or more users.
This “Space as a Service” concept can be used for operating multi-tenant hardware in a micro-colocation model or offering virtual server capacity for “above the clouds” computing. Several space startups are integrating micro-data centers into their designs, offering computing power to process satellite imaging data or monitor distributed sensors for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
OrbitsEdge Plans Racks in Space
Florida-based OrbitsEdge is embracing a data center in orbit model, taking off-the-shelf rackmount servers and bolting them into a satellite bus (the structural frame housing payloads).
“We’re both edge computing and data center,” said Rick Ward, Chief Technical Officer of OrbitsEdge. “We want to put big-performance computing infrastructure into space to process data, cleanse it, aggregate data from multiple sources and analyze it. We are that missing piece of the infrastructure to commercial space.”
OrbitsEdge is able to communicate with other satellites to collect and process their data, as well as performing overhead edge computing where a traditional data center is unavailable or not close enough. The company sees opportunities in offloading and storing data from Earth Observation satellites, processing it into immediately usable imagery, and sending the results directly to end-users in the field. It has had discussions with the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and commercial cloud providers on how such non-traditional resources could be useful for various use cases on Earth, in space, and on the surface of other celestial bodies.
“It’s another location for processing data above the clouds,” said Sylvia France, President of OrbitsEdge. “There’s a lot of interest in fintech, being able to make buy/sell decisions based on counting cars in parking lots. We’re also talking to entertainment companies as well, from space tourists to augmented reality firms.”
The OrbitsEdge SatFrame is the company’s proprietary satellite bus, with a standardized 19-inch server rack with available volume for 5U of hardware. The company’s first two SatFrame pathfinder satellites will support 18-inch deep hardware with production designs capable to grow to support full-sized 36 inch deep hardware.
Onboard Satframe-1 and Satframe-2 will be HPE EL8000 servers. Frank said exact setups for hardware are still being worked out, with different configurations to be implemented onboard each satellite to test and verify various CPUs and other hardware.
While HPE has flown a server onboard the International Space Station, the human-supporting environment is relatively benign compared to what OrbitsEdge needs to do. Supporting off-the-shelf servers in space requires SatFrame to have a large solar panel array to generate power, batteries to keep the system running when it is in the shadow of the planet, thermal controls to dump heat from operating hardware, and protection from cosmic radiation and solar flare events.
If successful, OrbitsEdge may go beyond Earth orbit and to the Moon, Mars, and on deep-space missions. As distances increase, so do communications delays and bandwidth is more constrained. Probes and humans will need on-site computing for autonomous vehicle operations, vision processing, and analysis of raw data.
“Our initial plan is to start at Low Earth Orbit then go to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit and cis-lunar locations,” said Ward. “Possibly planetary surface missions where we’re either static as a part of a base or habitat, but we also have the capability to attach onto a vehicle.”
Loft Offers ‘Space Infrastructure As A Service’
The attractiveness of sharing a satellite for lower operational costs and faster time to deliver production services is keeping San Francisco start-up Loft Orbital very busy, especially when combined with substantial simplifications for customers in setup and operations. Among Loft’s announced clients are DARPA’s Blackjack program, geo-data specialist Fugro, European satellite operator Eutelsat, the UAE government, and startups Orbital Sidekick and SpaceChain.
“Conceptionally, the idea of AWS operating compute infrastructure for others is what we’re doing for space,” said Loft Orbital co-founder and COO Alex Greenberg. “We’ll have our first satellite launch this year and have four missions underway. We’re adding more customers very quickly.”
While Loft Orbital normally offers the option of hosting a customer’s payload onboard their satellites and controlling it via its Cockpit web portal, in some cases Loft will also develop or buy the payload itself, allowing the customer to focus on their applications.
“In the data center analogy, we’re the virtualization between the data center and the hardware, we’re providing Space Infrastructure as a Service,” Greenberg said.
Onboard its first satellite Yet Another Mission 2 (YAM-2), Loft is providing this turnkey process for Eutelsat’s IoT service. Eutelsat is more accustomed to operating large expensive communications satellites, rather than building and operating small satellites. It makes financial and business sense for Loft to provide the infrastructure for Eutelsat’s satellite IoT service than for the company to get into that field from scratch. Loft’s first two satellite missions will include proof-of-concept tests for Eutelsat’s future IoT constellation.
“We’re taking away effort from the customer, saving the customer time, resources, and money” Greenberg explained. “But there’s a lot more than that as well. We’re optimizing for simplicity and speed, with our payload hub acting as an abstraction layer between the payload and the satellite bus. Traditionally, tons of subsystems have to be customized. Building satellites and payloads in low volumes means there’s no economies of scale.”
Loft successfully bet on having a steady stream of customers, buying multiple copies of a satellite bus – essentially a barebones satellite without sensors — ahead of time to get quantity discounts and then pulling out the bus and plugging in payloads when enough customers are lined up to fill it.
“The net result is we make the customer’s life a lot easier,” said Greenberg. “We leave the bus as is, there’s no non-recurring engineering or customization required. We get them to orbit a lot faster since they don’t have to do the engineering and we literally bought the bus well in advance, putting not only payload and bus manufacturing, but also launch procurement and mission operations timelines in parallel.”
Another capability Loft offers is a software-defined payload leveraging the software-defined radios onboard its satellites. Customers are already using the service, selecting specific antenna depending on the radio frequencies required. Loft can timeshare usage between multiple customers for applications such as IoT and RF spectrum surveys.
Future plans include onboard processing, with Loft ingesting data from payloads such as IoT and imagery and then allowing customers to use the satellite compute environment to analyze their data onboard the satellite rather than shipping it to the ground.
Improved Economics for Space-Powered IoT
Price-conscious satellite Internet of Things (IoT) start-ups such as Lacuna Space and OQ Technology are embracing hosting hardware and running virtualized tasks on third-party satellites when they can find usable opportunities, but it’s hard to find a perfect fit for every requirement.
“The main advantage of hosting is financial,” said Rob Spurrett, CEO of Lacuna Space. “It is simply more cost effective to share space with other payloads because, in principle, the platforms become progressively cheaper as they get larger … Sometimes there are last minute deals on hosted platforms where a payload supplier is running late, or cancelled, and those can be great bargains, but hard to come by.”
Lacuna Space uses a tweaked version of the LoRaWAN protocol to pick up data from IoT devices around the world. Its’ first five platforms in space are a mix of dedicated satellites and hosted communication packages sharing space onboard other satellites. Moving forward, Lacuna Space will build and launch 24 dedicated satellites because sharing requires compromise.
“You tend to lose a degree of control (by sharing),” Spurrett stated. “The platform and mission performance is not necessarily driven by just your needs, but by a compromise where the combination of needs of all the payloads need to be considered … As our constellation becomes more complex, then using hosted platforms becomes more complex and the logistical difficulties overrun the cost savings.”
OQ Technology conducted the first tests of its 5G-based NB-IoT service using a satellite originally launched by Dutch-based GomSpace. NB-IoT is short for Narrowband Internet of Things, and is a low-power wide-area network to connect distributed devices. The satellite was reconfigured to communicate with NB-IoT devices on the ground by uploading new software written by OQ. As the company moves forward, OQ Technology plans to use a combination of existing satellites, hosted payloads, and its own satellites to deliver global NB-IoT coverage.
Like Lacuna Space, OQ is using what’s available, but there aren’t any perfect fits for sharing satellites. “We don’t choose one, we have to use what is out there and reliable, investors like when you can scale up and invest less in hardware,” said founder and CEO Omar Qaise. “Not every satellite has the right frequency and power we need, so hopefully there will be in future enough ‘constellation as a service’ platforms with flexibility. Today we have not identified any for (OQ Technology’s) commercial case, but there are many companies promising that.”
By John Tucker | January 29, 2020
As we move toward the commercialization of space, data is going to become a much sought after commodity for businesses and public organizations that are involved in the development of the space industry.
Sending data back to Earth to get processed is going to take a vast amount of bandwidth and will cause delays in communication. Without the correct data infrastructure in place, progress will be made much slower. By creating robust data centers in space, OrbitsEdge is getting ahead of the problem with a solution that will prove to become an invaluable resource to any other space startup.
Bottlenecks in data processing in space are already a problem, and as space opens up to the possibilities brought about by the lower cost in commercial space activity, this problem will only grow. OrbitsEdge is already there with a solution though, and by joining forces with Hewlett Packard, they are proving that they now have the data processing power that they need.
What is OrbitsEdge?
Formed in 2018, OrbitsEdge helps other businesses or public organizations collect and process huge amounts of data in space. Whether that data is accumulated through the Internet of Things or from testing, the amount of time it takes for this data to return to Earth to get processed can cause a lot of issues.
This Florida based startup has paired up with Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) to create the perfect synergy. Utilizing the micro-datacenter technology developed by HPE, OrbitsEdge will further develop this for use in space and it will be hosted on the OrbitsEdge SatFrame.
Who’s Behind OrbitsEdge?
The OrbitsEdge founder and Cheif Technical Officer, Richard Ward has a background in Deep Space Industries. He has been instrumental in developing the proprietary SatFrame which houses the equipment to be used in Low Earth Orbit.
CEO, Barb Stinnett has over three decades worth of’ Silicon Valley experience and has been involved in many major tech businesses over the last few decades, including Hewlett Packard, Oracle, and Cisco. She has also been CEO and has held a number of board of directors positions for private equity and venture capital firm portfolios.
OrbitsEdge And Hewlett Packard Enterprises
In November 2019, OrbitsEdge announced that it would be utilizing the HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems to enable space companies to manage their data more efficiently in space.
Created by OrbitsEdge, the SatFrame is designed to host the technology and compensate for stressors such as radiation in space.
With both companies working together to produce technology that can withstand the harsh environments of space, many other companies and space organizations will gain a valuable technological resource that will help propel their interests forward.
With edge computing bringing the technology to NewSpace companies operating in the emerging space industries, OrbitsEdge has positioned itself in a prime and valuable position. The savvy space entrepreneurs are in a prime spot, whereby they will be able to assist many companies to reach their goals of developing their commercial businesses in space.
By Patrick Nelson | December 12, 2019
Development of IoT services in space will require ruggedized edge computing. OrbitsEdge, a vendor has announced a deal with HPE for development.
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,” OrbitsEdge 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.
By Darrell Etherington | December 3, 2019
What kinds of businesses might be able to operate in space? Well, data centers are one potential target you might not have thought of. Space provides an interesting environment for data center operations, including advanced analytics operations and even artificial intelligence, due in part to the excellent cooling conditions and reasonable access to renewable power supply (solar). But there are challenges, which is why a new partnership between Florida-based space startup OrbitsEdge and Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) makes a lot of sense.
The partnership will make OrbitsEdge a hardware supplier for HPE’s Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, and basically it means that the space startup will be handling everything required to “harden” the standard HPE micro-data center equipment for use in outer space. Hardening is a standard process for getting stuff ready to use in space, and essentially prepares equipment to withstand the increased radiation, extreme temperatures and other stressors that space adds to the mix.
OrbitsEdge, founded earlier this year, has developed a proprietary piece of hardware called the “SatFrame” which is designed to counter the stress of a space-based operating environment, making it relatively easy to take off-the-shelf Earth equipment like the HPE Edgeline system and get it working in space without requiring a huge amount of additional, custom work.
In terms of what this will potentially provide, the partnership will mean it’s more feasible than ever to set up a small-scale data center in orbit to handle at least some of the processing of space-based data right near where it’s collected, rather than having to shuttle it back down to Earth. That process can be expensive, and difficult to source in terms of even finding companies and infrastructure to use. As with in-space manufacturing, doing things locally could save a lot of overhead and unlock tons of potential down the line.
By Doug Mohney | December 3, 2019
Startup OrbitsEdge, Inc. announced it has signed an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreement with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to host HPE Edgeline Convered Edges Systems onboard its SatFrame space-hardened satellite to enable commercial space companies to deploy computing in orbit and accelerate exploration. Given HPE’s previous work onboard the International Space Station (ISS), this isn’t a big surprise.
“Hewlett Packard Enterprise is the ideal partner for OrbitsEdge since its technologies have proven to withstand extreme environments on Earth and in space, with its deployment of the Spaceborne Computer in the International Space Station (ISS). This partnership follows HPE’s innovative strategy of enabling new solutions to be developed and deployed years in advance,” said Barbara Stinnett, chief executive officer of OrbitsEdge, Inc. “OrbitsEdge will leverage HPE’s edge technology to run sophisticated analytics such as artificial intelligence (AI) on the vast amounts of data that will be created as space is commercialized,” she added.
OrbitsEdge proprietary SatFrame bus is designed to support and protect commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) data center rack-mountable computing gear from the challenges of in-orbit operations, with SatFrame providing protection against radiation as well as providing temperature control, power, and communications. An HPE Edgeline Converged Edge System will be the first hosted payload onboard SatFrame to provide what OrbitsEdge calls a “micro-datacenter in orbit” for processing space-based data and help minimize the time and cost of backhaul to earth.
“We are committed to pushing technology limits to power the next era of innovation, whether it’s here on Earth or in space,” said Phillip Cutrone, vice president and general manager, Worldwide OEM at HPE. “The HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems provide datacenter-grade performance, data acquisition, industrial networks, and control in harsh edge environments to enable real-time insight and action. By combining our technologies with the OrbitsEdge SatFrame hardening design, the commercial space industry gains advanced systems to create new space-based applications and solutions.”
The SatFrame 445 bus provides a standard 19 inch server rack for up to 5U (Rack U, not Cubesat U of space, satellite bros) hardware and can support up to full-size 36 inch deep hardware. OrbitsEdge plans to launch a “sub 300” kilogram satellite in its first flight demonstration with 18 inch (half-deep) hardware onboard, with payloads operating on a “day/night” cycle on the satellite to conserve power and manage heat, powering up when the satellite is in the sun and shutting down on the night side of the Earth.
One potential application for OrbitsEdge-style in-orbit computing power would be to process imagery directly from other low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Today, visual and radar imagery are typically transmitted in raw form down to a ground station and into the data center and then processed and sent to the end-user. On-orbit processing would substantially reduce satellite downlink bandwidth needs and could provide a processed image directly to an end-user more quickly by removing the ground data center as an intermediary. Faster imaging processing would be a bonanza for civilian and national defense users – the latter group an area HPE is quite familiar with.
Other applications for in-orbit computing include financial transactions and any that need low-latency outside of a traditional data center. How OrbitsEdge fits into the overall scheme of edge computing and 5G will be interesting to watch, since edge and 5G both are emphasizing low-latency as an advantage over backhauling computations back to a traditional data center.
By Ron Mendoza | December 3, 2019
OrbitsEdge, provider of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Edge micro-data centers, partners up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to help make data more accessible for companies in space.
Florida-based startup OrbitsEdge announced on Tuesday via press release that it has signed an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) contract with HPE. With this new agreement, OrbitsEdge will be the supplier of HPE's Edgeline Converged Edge Systems. The team-up will forge data centers that will be deployed in outer space, which is designed to make computing and data processing more accessible from where data is collected rather than sending it back to Earth.
OrbitsEdge applies a hardening solution to HPE's equipment to enable it to endure the extreme conditions in space, like radiation and other environmental stressors that it will be subjected to in space. Founded this year, OrbitsEdge proprietary technology for protecting hardware is "SatFrame." The "ruggedized satellite bus" is designed to withstand the harsh environment in space.
A Former HPE Executive as CEO
The company also appointed a former Hewlett Packard executive, Barbara Stinnett, as CEO back in September. Stinett's resumé spans over 30 years of experience with Silicon Valley companies, namely HPE, Cisco and Oracle.
"Hewlett Packard Enterprise is the ideal partner for OrbitsEdge since its technologies have proven to withstand extreme environments on Earth and in space, with its deployment of the Spaceborne Computer in the International Space Station (ISS). This partnership follows HPE's innovative strategy of enabling new solutions to be developed and deployed years in advance," said Stinnett.
"OrbitsEdge will leverage HPE's edge technology to run sophisticated analytics such as artificial intelligence (AI) on the vast amounts of data that will be created as space is commercialized," she added.
"We are committed to pushing technology limits to power the next era of innovation, whether it's here on Earth or in space," said Phillip Cutrone, vice president and general manager, Worldwide OEM at HPE.
"The HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems provide datacenter-grade performance, data acquisition, industrial networks, and control in harsh edge environments to enable real-time insight and action. By combining our technologies with the OrbitsEdge SatFrame hardening design, the commercial space industry gains advanced systems to create new space-based applications and solutions."
By Doug Mohney | October 4, 2019
OrbitsEdge is likely to give headaches to traditional satellite providers and offer intriguing possibilities to the growing edge computing movement. The company is offering a proprietary satellite bus designed to protect off-the-shelf rack mountable computing gear from the harsh environment of space, enabling users to tap into IT resources with low latency. It’s also likely to temporarily confuse Cubesat people with its use of “U” for rack space volume.
“What we’re looking at in the past and today, all the computers that go up on satellites are vintage tech,” said Rick Ward, Chief Technology Officer at OrbitsEdge. “There’s a tremendous amount of work on radiation hardening to make sure they work for a very long time. There’s no modern computer out in space. We’re looking to change that.”
The SatFrame 445 satellite will fly in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), providing power, thermal control/cooling, improved radiation protection and a host of communications capabilities to a standard 19 inch server rack with available space for 5U of hardware up to full-size 36 inch deep hardware. In addition, software “hardening” of devices will be necessary to compensate for radiation faults and potential damage.
Radiation is the biggest threat to computing in space as solar flares and cosmic radiation randomly zip through RAM and CPUs, with best case scenarios simple “bit flips” in memory storage or processes requiring a reboot. Physical damage to chips also occurs over time, making memory and CPUs unusable. Worse yet, devices become more vulnerable to radiation as fabrication processes get smaller. Packing more transistors onto a piece of silicon means the latest generation of chips are those most likely to be brutalized and rendered ineffective by higher radiation levels found outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Only recently has newer off-the-shelf IT and computing hardware gone up into orbit, but experience is limited. Smaller cubesats have used cell phones due to low cost and compactness along with a low-cost/lower lifetime philosophy of 1 to 3 years in orbit, while HP Enterprise (HPE) recently launched a “supercomputer” to the International Space Station. The Spaceborne computer was built around an HPE Apollo 40-class system and used a modified Linux OS, with the computer returned to Earth after over a year of operation for teardown and fine analysis.
OrbitsEdge plans to launch a “sub 300 kilogram range” satellite as a testbed for its technologies and COTS hardware, with half-deep rack (18 inch) hardware onboard. Payloads will operate on a “day/night” cycle on the demo satellite to conserve power and manage heat, powering up when solar energy is available to run devices and shutting down when on the night side of Earth.
“Our demo mission is the smallest,” said Ward. “We’re only taking what’s essential to the mission. One of the things about high capacity computing is its very power intensive. We’re running a 1 kilowatt heater, so you have to get rid of the heat. If you want to run at night, you more than double mass take that step up,” between larger solar panels and batteries needed to provide power when the sun isn’t available.
Multiple commercial architectures will be onboard, but Ward declined to provide specifics on what gear or potential CPU types may be on board. He did, however, concur with Space IT Bridge that potential load outs could include low-end CPUs, representation for GPUs such as NVIDIA, and the latest silicon. The upside to the latest chip fabrication technologies is placing multiple cores on a single chip and the ability to monitor CPUs, shutting down one when it is damaged.
Why put computing into space in the first place? One real world application is being able to process imagery faster from other LEO satellites. Radar and visual imagery are transmitted in raw form to a ground station into the data center, consuming time and bandwidth. On-orbit processing would reduce bandwidth needs and could provide a processed image directly to an end user faster. For civilian and national defense users, faster imagery processing would be a bonanza.
Other potential applications could include any requiring extremely low latency, such as financial transactions, and any that could benefit from edge computing. A commercial version of the OrbitsEdge satellite will have multiple radios “some talking up, some talking down, some talking sideways,” said Ward, illustrating the need to send processed data back to the ground, upward for relay through a GEO communications satellite, and to communicate with other satellites for picking up and passing along raw and processed information.
OrbitsEdge is still exploring different business models. Initial satellites may be populated with servers with users leveraging VMware to run virtual instances of the apps they need with agencies and enterprises requesting more customized hardware loads tailored to specific needs. For security and speed purposes, organizations may order (buy) dedicated satellites, but potential customers need to become comfortable with and understand the advantages to on-orbit edge computing.
CEO Barbara Stinnett says OrbitsEdge has seed funding good through 2020, staff on hand and is preparing to secure a Series A round in the first quarter of 2020, talking to a mixture of venture capitalist funds and strategic partners. There are also a series of OEM announcements in the works with more information expected to be released in the upcoming months.
“We have three markets interested, all around sustainability,” Stinnett said. Oil, gas, and water infrastructure is one sector, government the second, and life sciences/health care as the third. Being able to provide easily accessible and computing resources is of interest in multiple markets.
Stinnett would not discuss how many satellites OrbitsEdge expects to put into orbit, saying the company had looked at it and would be disclosing their plans at a future time.
Space IT Bridge finds the concept of OrbitsEdge intriguing in a couple of aspects. It brings back the age-old discussion of “Big Dumb Pipe” verses “Smart Network” started up in 1990s-2000s VON Magazine era. Big dumb pipe advocates believed if you have enough broadband and low latency, everything can be solved by hauling functions and processes back to the data center, an argument that proved significantly true with the deployment of SDN and NFV in telecom networks.
However, 5G and its introduction of edge computing has brought back discussion of a smart network. The 5G community believes edge computing is an asset in time-sensitive applications affected by latency or just waiting around for a response, but the telecom community continues to define a set of use cases where edge computing is a “win” in 5G (Due in part to the fact 5G network deployments are continuously flowing works in progress dependent on RF bandwidth dictating architecture).
LEO broadband services being deployed by OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat, and LeoSat are the “Big Dumb Pipe” of the 2020s. Will low latency and sufficient broadband in an underserved/unserved area be good enough for many/most users and applications or will OrbitsEdge fill in the role of “Smart network” by bringing edge computing to the equation? There’s no clear answer at the moment.