France: Thales Alenia Space to lead the ASCEND feasibility study for data centers in orbit

Nov 22, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

As data demand continues to surge and countries ponder different ways to reach their respective climate goals, the European Commission has announced that it’s launching a feasibility study into putting data centers into orbit. Thales Alenia Space, an aerospace company has been chosen to lead the study. 

As part of the wider Horizon Europe research program, the project will see data centers powered by solar power plants generating several hundred megawatts, with the aim of helping meet Europe’s Green Deal goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. According to Thales Alenia Space, the project will be an “unprecedented development in the European space and digital ecosystem.”

Currently, data centers are responsible for consuming around 3% of the global electricity supply and account for approximately 2% of total GHG emissions. However, aside from this, they guzzle up huge amounts of water for cooling and can also damage surrounding ecosystems. 

To tackle this, primarily, the feasibility study will assess if the carbon emissions from the production and launch of these space infrastructures will be “significantly lower than the emissions generated by ground-based data centers.” The second objective, as outlined by the aerospace company, will be “to prove that it is possible to develop the required launch solution and to ensure the deployment and operability of these spaceborne data centers using robotic assistance technologies currently being developed in Europe," such as the EROSS IOD demonstrator.

The consortium of companies involved in the project includes the environment (Carbone 4, VITO), cloud computing (Orange, CloudFerro, HPE Belgium), launch vehicles (ArianeGroup) and orbital systems (German aerospace center (DLR), Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space).

Of course, space isn’t the only location being targeted to lower emissions; a number of underwater data center trials have taken place in the last few years, while underground locations have also been explored, including mines and caves.

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