The EU is deploying data centers in space

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(Photo: Thales Alenia)
The world’s growing reliance on the Internet comes at a physical cost. Data centers, which play a critical role in maintaining computer services and data, are a central component of any operation that relies on digital resources. They are also physically large; As an organization grows, so does it. Finally, organizations are forced to consider not only where to place their data centers, but also how to power them efficiently and how to reduce their emissions.

In recent years, we’ve started sticking data centers in the desert or in the middle of the ocean. Deserts present few service-disrupting natural disasters and provide abundant solar energy; Ocean, like Microsoft’s Project Natick, helps keep data centers cool. But desert data centers are still land-intensive, and no earth-based data center is without their emissions… the key word, of course, is “earth-based.” The European Union thinks it can beat this challenge by sending data centers into space, and it’s already working to test the theory with a $2 million study called ASCEND.

(Photo: Taylor Vick/Unsplash)

The Advanced Space Cloud for European Net Zero Emissions and Data Sovereignty (ASCEND) is the brainchild of the EU and Thales Alenia Space, a European space agency. The research aims to explore the feasibility of deploying data center stations in low earth orbit (LEO). Space data centers will be powered by solar power plants generating hundreds of megawatts, while the only link to Earth will be a high-throughput Internet connection. If all goes well, these extraterrestrial data centers could complement or replace some of the data centers here on Earth.

Of course, we don’t know everything will power Well ASCEND’s top priority is determining whether space data centers are actually less emissions-heavy than Earth, and the results of that investigation can be disappointing when the resources needed to launch them are factored in. (According to Thales Alenia’s statement, it’s even building a “climate-friendly, reusable heavy launch vehicle.”) Such a setup is also bound to be very expensive to launch and maintain, and if space data centers aren’t as efficient as their Earthly counterparts, their Costs a lot to ship. May not be worth it in LEO.

If ASCEND is successful, the resulting technology could contribute to Europe’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 under the Green Deal.

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