Calculating Pi in the sky: Axiom Space plans to launch 'orbital datacenter'

Small rack to lift off in 2027 – we reckon it might be 10U or 12U, which can pack a lot of power

Axiom Space says it plans to build and launch an orbital datacenter to support missions aboard its upcoming commercial space station.

The Texas-based firm wants to construct the world's first commercial space station, and has commenced work on modules of the facility, targeting a launch in 2026. Axiom's first modules will dock with the International Space Station, then as more modules reach space, the private station will gain the functions it needs to disconnect and function alone.

Axiom expects its orbiting lab will bring a decent number of people to space and therefore create demand for an on-prem datacenter to provide those working in orbit with reliable, low-latency access to cloud-like services. To do this, it is developing what's called an Orbital Datacenter Capability (ODC T1) with an aim to reduce reliance on terrestrial services.

"The datacenter will provide unprecedented data storage and processing capacity in a commercial, scalable, and economical way to aid microgravity researchers, Axiom Station users, and satellites in LEO, medium-Earth orbit, and Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) through optical communications relays and via the extended mesh network," Jason Aspiotis, Axiom's space director for in-space infrastructure and logistics, explained in a statement.

OK, calling the facility a "datacenter" is something of an exaggeration, as Axiom admits it will occupy a "half-cubic-meter sized rack" when it launches in 2027. It's likely the company will use racks fashioned to house kit designed for orbital ops.

But let's do a little back of the envelope math anyway to consider what a half cubic meter datacenter could comprise, starting with the 600mm x 1066.8mm footprint of a standard datacenter rack as that suggests the orbital datacenter could be a dozen or so standard units in height.

The Register fancies that space could house four 2U servers each packing a pair of manycore CPUs, another 2U for a storage array capable of handling 24 drives and therefore a few dozen terabytes of storage, plus networking kit. That would be a decently powerful rig – if also one that would likely be hard to power and cool in space.

While Axios hasn't detailed the hardware that will power the ODC T1; it's working to validate use cases at a small scale. This includes launching a prototype to the ISS in 2024 to gather insights into how best to operate a "datacenter" in orbit.

Axiom also plans to conduct demonstrations using an AWS Snowcone already in orbit on the ISS. As we've previously reported, Snowcone is a shoebox-sized system equipped with 14 terabytes of solid-state storage and a pair of vCPUs and 4GB memory.

To extend the utility of the orbital datacenter beyond Axiom Station, the space concern has partnered with satcomm outfits Kepler Communications and Skyloom Global to integrate and demonstrate high-data-rate communications using optical satellite links.

"This demonstration is the start of laying the initial infrastructure for a commercial space internet to flourish in near either orbit and on a planetary scale," Skyloom's chief commercial officer Eric Moltzau gushed in a statement.

Those links, plus the ODC T1 datacenter, will be deployed after Axiom's Hab One – the first of several modules planned for the station — docks with the ISS.

According to Axiom, the links will provide up to 10Gbit/sec of data throughput, which by terrestrial standards is nothing special. But even with the recent improvements made to the ISS's comms equipment, it's still an upgrade. ®

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