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SpaceX spin-out plans to put virtual machines in orbit

Software-defined satellites will run XenServer and let you upload new workloads

Virtualization admins asked to explain what they do for a living may finally have something cooler than server consolidation to tell their kids, thanks to space upstart Vector deciding it's a good idea to create software-defined satellites that lift a hypervisor into orbit.

Vector is building small rockets capable of lifting up to 50 kilograms into space and thinks it can conduct 100 launches a year, starting in 2018 and from just US$2m per launch. The company's approach to space also sees it point out that designing satellite payloads is expensive because it usually sees missions tightly bound to both satellite hardware and ground systems. Which sounds just like minicomputers and mainframes!

The company's therefore created a satellite operating system called “Galactic Sky” so that its planned micro-satellites can run different applications. Would-be satellite users can therefore code for a platform, rather than for a specific satellite.

Now the company's extending that idea by teaming with Citrix to get XenServer running on Galactic Sky.

Vector's canned statement says being able to design a VM to run on a satellite will ease the development process. The statement also just about confirms it will be possible to upload new VMs to Vector's satellites. If that's the case there are all sorts of delicious possibilities to be had. Vector thinks that “tailored imagery, onboard analytics, ultra-secure data storage and transfer, and high-speed communications which is only possible from space” are the most likely application for its hardware and platforms.

The Register can imagine a satellite that runs different VMs at scheduled times so that different workloads get their turn on one piece of hardware. Or perhaps a spot market for orbital compute capacity.

Citrix has consciously and happily backed away from mainstream server virtualization in recent years. But the company remains close to the Xen Project, which is working on virtualization for cars. Satellites aren't therefore a massive stretch.

VMware's not been left in a vacuum either, as some of Vector's people are former Virtzillans. Vector's founders also include folk who used to work for SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other space upstarts. ®


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