[Beowulf] Server Sky - Internet and computation in orbit

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Fri Jun 21 08:35:00 PDT 2013

A couple fundamental questions arise in this sort of strategy (which is nothing really new, although technology advances are making it easier)

1) orbital debris - fling those thousands of widgets out there.  Are they high enough to stay in orbit for a while? Are they going to damage things that hit them? 
2) orbital mechanics - the "array" pretty much has to be flat, that is, they're all at the same orbit height, otherwise they'll drift apart, since the period is different.   There's also a whole raft of issues about orientation, etc., stability of the orbit.  As we all know, the earth is not a perfect sphere with perfect 1/r^2 gravity.  There are some remarkably stable orbits (I worked on a satellite that is in one: QuikSCAT 801km orbit at 98.6 degree inclination, a perfect 4 day repeat cycle that is very stable)

3) does it really save anything to put the computation in orbit? As much as I love computing in space (particularly deep space), if you had a solar powered conventional data center on the ground and a fat comm pipe to those third world countries, wouldn't that work as well?  The solar plant on the ground will see about 1/3 the solar power as one in the right orbit (which may not be stable, see #2), but mass to orbit is expensive, so why not put all those solar cells to work on the earth's surface, rather than spending energy to put them into orbit.

I'd like to see more justification of the 100x cost differential between ground and space 25 years from now. 

Jim Lux

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From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On Behalf Of Eugen Leitl
Sent: Friday, June 21, 2013 3:32 AM
To: tt at postbiota.org; Beowulf at beowulf.org; NANOG list; forkit!
Subject: [Beowulf] Server Sky - Internet and computation in orbit

(This may be Wacky Friday, but this one is not tongue in cheek -- the name Keith Lofstrom should ring a bell).


Server Sky - internet and computation in orbit

It is easier to move terabits than kilograms or megawatts. Space solar power will solve the energy crisis. Sooner if we process space power into high value computation before we send it to earth. Computation is most valuable where it is rarest - in the rural developing world. Human attention is the most valuable resource on earth, and Server Sky space-based internet can transport that attention from where it is most abundant to where it is most valued.

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