August 13, 2020

Now that humans are beginning to turn the dream of Mars and space exploration into a reality through the recently launched Perseverance Mars Rover, cloud computing is an essential technology that will help us understand and process data in real-time through video footage and satellite imagery.

According to IEEE Senior Member Claudio Sacchi and IEEE Fellow Marina Ruggieri, who are contributors to the IEEE Aerospace and Electronics Systems Society’s Glue Technologies for Space Systems Technical Panel, “space exploration calls for brave human and robotized travelers that need to be equipped with the most important tool: knowledge. Data is the means to provide human and robotized travelers the knowledge they need to fulfill at best their mission. An infrastructure that integrates terrestrial and space components is needed to provide Cloud data in the most effective way.”

Much like we use the internet to look up how-to videos or articles when things break around our houses, astronauts are sometimes put in situations where they have to quickly learn, process data or even reboot and restart a computer on a spacecraft in a specific order. This quick access to information can mean life or death and is crucial to keeping fellow astronauts and the space shuttle safe.

Cloud computing uses the internet to quickly access, study and read data over a shared server. This type of technology is crucial for space exploration where we are sending robots (and maybe one day humans) further and further away from Earth and its range of satellites from which it can take days to retrieve data.

“Enabling astronauts to have information readily available at their fingertips is extremely important, and could make the difference between a mission succeeding or failing,” reiterates IEEE Senior Member Alexander Wyglinski.

Conceptually, the cloud that we use to store and exchange information across a connected device and network is no different than the one that could potentially be utilized in space. But Wyglinski explains that the difference is, “with respect to the distances between those devices and the physical challenges they introduce.”

“If you have a space cloud that connects devices on the Moon, orbiting the Moon, enroute to Mars, on the Martian surface, on Earth and a deep space probe around Jupiter, we are talking about a very challenging network since the information on each of these devices will physically need to travel very long distances to get to another device,” says Wyglinski.

In order to see the space cloud succeed, technologists must get innovative on how to efficiently transmit and store data collected from space probes and spacecraft.

“Right now, everything is sent back to Earth for storage and processing; this approach needs to change to enable more cost-effective deep space exploration,” says IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta. “Transmission also incurs in high-power usage, which in space typically is supplied via solar panels, which must be recharged more frequently as the workload increases. A space cloud would provide more efficient storage and transmission methods, so that power consumption would be reduced.”

Panetta explains that AI will be instrumental for reducing power consumption because it “will be able to do intelligent analysis and capture expert knowledge to answer research questions.”

AI’s heavy-lifting reasoning means we might one day rely on the technology to answer our most inquisitive questions such as, “are there signs of life?”

Cloud computing is crucial for space exploration because this format is the future of communication. We look forward to the opportunities the space cloud will offer as technologists continue to develop and understand this new way of sharing and understanding data terrestrially.

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