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18-month study measures viability of space-based data centres

Written by Thu 11 Jul 2024

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Space-based data centres may be a reality for Europe, according to the results of an 18-month study conducted by Thales Alenia.

The study, a joint venture between Thales Alenia Space and Leonardo, explored the feasibility of space-based data centres.

ASCEND (Advanced Space Cloud for European Net-Zero Emission and Data Sovereignty) was launched in 2023 and funded by the European Commission, under the Horizon Europe programme. This initiative supports the EU Green Deal’s objective of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while transforming Europe’s space and digital ecosystem.

The primary goal of ASCEND was to compare the environmental impacts of space-based and Earth-based data centres and to validate the technological feasibility of developing, deploying, and operating data centres in orbit.

The results are promising, indicating that space-based data centres could significantly reduce CO2 emissions generated by data processing and storage. These data centres would also eliminate the need for water-based cooling systems, a growing concern as global droughts become more frequent and severe.

Thales Alenia Space is targeting the deployment of 1GW of capacity by 2050, based on the economic viability of the project as confirmed by the ASCEND project.

“The results of the ASCEND study confirm that deploying data centres in space could transform the European digital landscape, offering a more eco-friendly and sovereign solution for hosting and processing data,” said Christopher Valorge, CTO of Thales Alenia Space.

Valorge added Thales Alenia Space is proud to be contributing to an initiative supporting Europe’s net-zero objectives and strengthening its technological sovereignty.

Following the promising results of the initial study, Thales Alenia Space and its partners intend to pursue further studies to consolidate and optimise strategies moving forward. Ensuring the sustainability and longevity of space-based data centres involves addressing challenges like developing environmentally-friendly launchers and preventing the accumulation of space debris.

Should further studies support the findings of the initial ASCEND study, Europe could have these data centres in orbit as soon as 2036.

In 2022, the European Commission selected Thales Alenia Space to conduct a feasibility study on data centres in orbit.

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Written by Thu 11 Jul 2024

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