The Ascend Project: Data centers in space, Europe’s new frontier

The European Union, in its constant pursuit of innovation and sustainability, is exploring a new frontier for data centers: space. With the ambitious Ascend Project, led by Thales Alenia Space, the EU is investigating the feasibility of operating data centers in orbit as part of its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Challenges and Opportunities of Space Data Centers
While the idea of moving data centers into space may seem challenging due to aspects such as the carbon footprint of rocket launches, latency, solar energy, and the risks of solar flares or collisions with space debris, the Ascend project seeks to overcome these obstacles. The initiative focuses on using solar energy outside the Earth’s atmosphere and the use of modular infrastructures with robotic assembly, which could significantly reduce the carbon footprint of data centers on Earth.

David Carrero Fernández-Baillo, Co-founder of Stackscale and an expert in cloud infrastructure in Europe, offers a pragmatic perspective on space data centers: “These experiments represent a significant step in the development of space exploration and potential expansion to the Moon or Mars. However, despite their relevance to scientific and technological advancement, their practical application in today’s business world is limited. The costs associated with the operation and maintenance of these space data centers are considerably high, posing a significant challenge for their widespread implementation in the private sector in the short term. These types of initiatives, while promising, still need to overcome several economic and technical obstacles to be viable and functional for businesses on Earth.”

A Joint Experiment with Microsoft on the ISS
As part of the project, a small server will be installed on the International Space Station (ISS) in a joint experiment with Microsoft. This step forward in experimentation seeks to better understand the operation and capabilities of a data center in space.

Robotics and New Technologies at Play
The project involves the use of robotics for the configuration and maintenance of data centers in orbit, with the collaboration of major entities such as the Ariane Group and Airbus. The research also focuses on the development of reusable and cost-effective launchers that make the installation of these space data centers viable.

Potential Impact and Future of Space Data Centers
The Ascend Project not only seeks to validate the technical and environmental feasibility of data centers in space but also their ability to support the digitization and data autonomy of the EU. The results of this study could have a significant impact on the future of data centers, offering an innovative solution to address energy and environmental challenges on Earth.

A Step towards Sustainability and Technological Leadership in Europe
This project represents a significant effort for Europe on its path towards sustainability and consolidation as a global leader in modular robotic infrastructures and reusable launchers. The idea of data centers in space could open new possibilities for the European space and technology industry, offering sustainable and advanced solutions for the growing demand for data processing.

In conclusion, the Ascend Project of the EU’s Horizon Europe program is a bold step towards a future where data centers in space could become a reality. This initiative not only seeks innovative solutions for current environmental and energy challenges but also opens a new chapter in space exploration and digital autonomy in Europe.

Reference: EU

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