Data centers in orbit? Space-Based Edge Computing Gets a Boost

On the left, an OrbitsEdge SatFrame server developed in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPA)> On the right, a Vaya Space launcher. (Images: OrbitsEdge, Espace Vaya)

Plans to operate small data centers in space got a boost this week as satellite colocation company OrbitsEdge now has a launch partner. Hybrid rocket startup Vaya Space announcement an exclusive long-term launch agreement with OrbitsEdge, a key step in commercializing the technology for both companies.

OrbitsEdge has developed a compact rack design that will house servers inside a satellite, and has partnered with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and other vendors to create a high-performance computing (HPC) data center at launch into low Earth orbit (LEO) to process and analyze data created in space.

This is one of the most difficult concepts in the evolution of edge computing, which generally aims to bring data closer to users. OrbitsEdge sees a different business model – data analysis and thinning for the huge volume of data generated by next-generation satellites. This includes commercial imaging satellites that collect huge volumes of data.

But first, you need to get the data center into space. This is where Vaya Space comes in. Vaya was created in 2017 by former Space Shuttle Commander Sid Gutierrez and developed an innovative hybrid rocket design using 3D printed fuel grains created from recycled thermoplastics. The company tested its launch vehicle in January with a sub-orbital flight from California and expects its first orbital mission to be in 2023.

“Vaya has gained strong momentum over the past quarter, outpacing many of our previous competitors who entered the space sector with legacy technology,” said Jack Blood, Chief Commercial Officer of Vaya Space. “This is the third major deal we’ve announced in as many months, as satellite providers increasingly turn to us for their launch needs. We look forward to supporting Orbits Edge as they roll out their innovative new technology for computing above the cloud and in space.

“The absolute extreme of what is possible”

OrbitsEdge wants to use advanced computing technology to reduce the bandwidth bottlenecks and transmission latency associated with sending large amounts of satellite data back to Earth for processing. It worked with server vendors like HPE to prototype hardware that can offer a performance boost over current space servers, but still perform in a harsh environment.

“OrbitsEdge is the absolute extreme of what is possible with HPE technology,” said Keenan Sugg, Solutions Architect for HPE. “The fact that you can trust our systems in the ultimate lights out environment in space speaks volumes.”

OrbitsEdge is able to communicate with other satellites to collect and process their data, as well as perform “overhead” edge computing for terrestrial clients in locations where a traditional data center is not available. The company sees opportunities in offloading and storing data from Earth observation satellites, transforming it into immediately usable images and sending the results directly to end users in the field.

Key to this strategy is OrbitsEdge SatFrame, the company’s proprietary satellite bus, which includes a standard 19-inch server rack with available volume for 5U of hardware. The company’s first two Pathfinder SatFrame satellites will support 18-inch-deep hardware with production designs able to grow to support 36-inch-deep hardware.

Zoom on OrbitsEdge and its ambitions.

Ramon J. Espinoza