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Europe is considering moving server farms to space

by on28 June 2024

Apparently it is doable but tech support is a challenge

Europe is exploring space options for digital storage, in a bid to reduce its need for energy-hungry facilities on the ground.

Advanced Space Cloud for European Net Zero emission and Data sovereignty, a 16-month study that explored the feasibility of launching data centers into orbit, has reached a “very encouraging” conclusion.

The 2 million euro ($2.1 million) ASCEND study, coordinated by Thales Alenia Space on behalf of the European Commission, claims that space-based data centres are technically, economically and environmentally feasible.

Damien Dumestier, the project manager, said the idea is to take off part of the energy demand for data centres and to send them into space to benefit from infinite solar energy.

Data centres are essential for keeping pace with digitalisation but also require significant amounts of electricity and water to power and cool their servers. According to the International Energy Agency, the total global electricity consumption from data centres could reach more than 1,000 terawatt-hours in 2026—roughly equivalent to Japan's electricity consumption.

The industry is about to be hit with a “wave of data tsunami,” said Merima Dzanic, head of strategy and operations at the Danish Data Center Industry Association.

She told CNBC that AI data centres need three times more energy than a traditional data centre, and that is a problem not just on the energy side but also on the consumption side.

Dzanic added that a “whole different approach to how we build, design, and operate data centers” is required.

The facilities that the study explored launching into space would orbit at an altitude of around 1,400 kilometers (869.9 miles) — about three times the altitude of the International Space Station. Dumestier explained that ASCEND would aim to deploy 13 space data centre building blocks with a total capacity of 10 megawatts in 2036, to achieve the starting point for cloud service commercialisation.

He said each building block—with a surface area of 6,300 square meters—includes capacity for its own data centre service and is launched within one space vehicle.

According to Dumestier, the objective is to deploy 1,300 building blocks by 2050 to achieve 1 gigawatt, which will significantly impact the digital sector's energy consumption.

ASCEND’s goal was to explore space-based data centres' potential and comparative environmental impact to help Europe become carbon neutral by 2050.

The study found that a new type of launcher that is 10 times less emissive would need to be developed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. ArianeGroup, one of the 12 companies participating in the study, is working to speed up the development of such reusable and eco-friendly launchers.

Dumestier said the target is to have the first eco-launcher ready by 2035 and then allow for 15 years of deployment to have huge capacity required to make the project feasible.

Yet Dzanic warned the somewhat “fringe” idea of space-based data centres doesn’t fully solve the issue of sustainable energy usage. “It’s just one part of the puzzle,” she said.

Last modified on 28 June 2024
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