The Houston-based company Axiom Space has entered agreements with Kepler Communications US Inc. and Skyloom Global Corp. to integrate and demonstrate high data rate Optical Intersatellite Links (OISLs) on the first module of Axiom Space’s commercial space station – Axiom Station. In parallel, the Axiom Space team is building the world’s first scalable, cloud technology-enabled, commercial orbital data centre to be hosted on Axiom Station.
The development of this first tranche of orbital data centre capability (ODC T1) will support the transformation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) into a global space marketplace by maturing the necessary technologies and infrastructure for large-scale and secure space-based data processing. One of the key features of the orbital data centre is “Earth independence” – the ability to provide in-space cloud services without the need to connect back to terrestrial cloud infrastructure. ODC T1 will help operationalise data processing and management applications for Axiom Space’s customers, while setting the stage for lunar and Mars use cases where on-premises data processing will be required to support exploration and economic development beyond Earth’s orbit.
The effort with Kepler and Skyloom will enable demonstration of OISLs to allow for data to be transmitted to and from the orbital data centre via the Kepler and Skyloom relay constellations. The OISLs will allow for up to 10 gigabits-per-second data throughput and meet Space Development Agency (SDA) interoperability standards.
“This is a pivotal moment for in-space data processing infrastructure and capabilities,” said Jason Aspiotis, Axiom Space’s Director of In-Space Infrastructure & Logistics. “For the past two years, our team has been demonstrating proof of concepts and developing use cases for in-space data processing infrastructure. The ODC T1 effort and collaboration with Kepler and Skyloom will help us realise our vision of building and operationalizing the world’s first orbital data centre. The data centre 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 (MEO) and Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) through optical communications relays and via the extended mesh network.”
In preparation for the ODC T1 deployment, Axiom Space plans to install a smaller data processing prototype aboard the International Space Station to conduct testing and demonstrate initial capabilities. The prototype is planned for launch in 2024 and will test applications in artificial intelligence and machine learning, data fusion, and space cybersecurity.
“We will work to validate use cases at a sub scale and, at the same time, obtain flight heritage on the underlying data centre hardware,” said Aspiotis. “Having a prototype on the ISS will serve as a building block toward the roughly half-cubic-metre sized data server rack we plan to launch by 2027.”
Axiom Space is also actively conducting demonstrations on the AWS Snowcone currently aboard the space station, proving the basic utility of a data centre in space and implementing processes and procedures for future orbital data centre operations.
“Kepler’s SDA-compatible space relay network leverages the latest technological advances in optical communications,” said Steve Bennett, Chief Operating Officer for Kepler. “We are pleased to partner with Axiom Space to provide 24-7 on-orbit capabilities to demonstrate the benefits our low latency, high-throughput data relay network can provide Axiom Space’s orbital data centre. With the proliferation of spacecraft in LEO, the demand for continuous, high-capacity connectivity on orbit continues to grow. The Kepler Network is designed to help close the business case for commercial space stations, Earth observation companies, and other space operators requiring low latency and high bandwidth connectivity.”
“Skyloom is excited to partner with Axiom Space,” said Eric Moltzau, Skyloom’s Chief Commercial Officer. “This demonstration will prove the competitive advantages of our SkyCompass-1 optical communications network, which we are jointly developing and deploying with Space Compass and which will offer services beginning in 2025. This project with Axiom Space will illustrate SkyCompass-1’s low latency, high bandwidth network capabilities.
“Skyloom is a network service provider and space-based telecom equipment manufacturer,” Moltzau added. “We build all the infrastructure to support network services and we see the partnership with Axiom Space as a tremendous opportunity to grow together to provide these services for all kinds of commercial and government users. This demonstration is the start of laying the initial infrastructure for a Commercial Space Internet to flourish in near earth orbit and on a planetary scale.”
Once Axiom Station Hab One (AxH1) is connected to the ISS, the data centre hardware and optical communications terminals will be flown to AxH1 for module integration in preparation for initial testing. ODC T1 is planned to launch by 2027. The testing expects to prove out an array of capabilities, including 24/7 and high-bandwidth data connectivity between Axiom Station via a LEO and GEO relay network back to Earth; real-time voice and video capabilities for Axiom Station and its crew; high-speed data transport from experiments and payloads; connectivity and interoperability between LEO and GEO satellites with AxH1 as a network translation node; and orbital data centre use cases in Earth-independent data storage and fusion, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and in-space cybersecurity. Once testing and evaluation are complete, the ODC T1 will be ready for real-time operations on orbit in support of Axiom Station customers and the mesh network.
The commercialisation of LEO promises to stimulate new markets, drive innovations and fuel new ideas to advance civilisation. The development of space-based data centres, equipped with cloud technology and advanced cyber security, is an integral part of creating a sustainable communications ecosystem capable of supporting human spaceflight, exploration, and commerce in space to generate economic and social value for the world.