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The Future of Satellite Technology: Embracing Data Centers in Space for Edge and Fog Computing

In an era where data drives decision-making across various sectors, the demand for efficient data processing and real-time analytics has never been higher. Traditional data centers, while powerful, often struggle with the sheer volume and velocity of data generated, especially in remote or data-intensive applications. Enter satellite-based cloud computing—a transformative approach that leverages spaceborne data centers to bring edge and fog computing to new heights.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the demand for efficient data processing and real-time analytics grows exponentially. Traditional data centers are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume and velocity of data, especially in remote or data-intensive applications. This challenge is driving a revolutionary approach: satellite-based cloud computing, which leverages spaceborne data centers to bring edge and fog computing to new heights. Several space startups are integrating micro-data centers into their designs, offering computing power to process satellite imaging data or monitor distributed sensors for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The Rise of Satellite Constellations

We are presently witnessing the launch of numerous satellite constellations, each poised to transform global communications, Earth monitoring, and space observation. These constellations hold immense potential for various applications:

  1. Communication: Satellites will extend connectivity to underserved and unserved communities, supporting the burgeoning Internet-of-Things (IoT) landscape that demands robust communication infrastructure.
  2. Weather Science and Disaster Monitoring: Satellite constellations will provide real-time data crucial for weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and disaster response, enhancing global safety and security.
  3. Space Observation: Enhanced observation capabilities will allow for detailed monitoring of Earth’s ecosystems, climate changes, and natural phenomena.

The Role of  Edge and Fog Computing

Edge and fog computing represent a paradigm shift in how data is processed and managed. This approach reduces latency and bandwidth costs, crucial for real-time decision-making and efficient data management. Edge and fog computing represent a paradigm shift in data processing, moving computation and storage closer to the data source. Edge computing involves processing data on devices themselves, while fog computing extends this capability to a local network of devices, reducing latency and enhancing real-time decision-making. In the context of satellites, edge computing involves processing data directly on the satellite, while fog computing extends these capabilities to a network of satellites and ground stations.

Hierarchical Network Architecture for Satellite IoT

A proposed architecture for satellite IoT involves a hierarchical network supported by terrestrial data centers. This cloud-edge stratified system consists of three main components:

  1. Satellite IoT Cloud Node
  2. Satellite IoT Edge Node
  3. Ground User Terminal
  4. Ground Data Center

Satellite communication systems possess the flexibility to support the implementation of Fog and Edge Computing. These paradigms aim to bring computing power closer to the data source, which can be particularly beneficial in satellite systems. Here’s a detailed look at how this can be achieved:

Edge Computing in Ground User Terminal

User Terminal or VSAT Terminal Modems: One method of implementing edge computing in satellite systems is by enhancing User Terminals or VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) Terminal Modems with additional computing modules or single-board computers. Typically, these terminals consist of modem chips on a board. Through modernization, a single-board computer can be integrated, providing the necessary computing power for edge computing tasks. This allows data to be processed locally, reducing the need to transmit large volumes of data back to central servers.

Local Area Network Integration: Another approach involves connecting a single-board computer to an Ethernet-type Local Area Network (LAN) with a Wi-Fi router and other radio access technology equipment for short-range IoT smart devices. This setup allows IoT devices within the network to process data locally. Only the results or essential data are transmitted via satellite communication channels, optimizing bandwidth usage and reducing latency.

Edge and Cloud computing on Satellites

The number of remote sensing satellites has increased dramatically in satellite launches in recent years. After acquiring the remote sensing image data of the satellite, the researchers used the artificial intelligence algorithm and the powerful computing power of the ground data center to extract the hidden information in the remote sensing image. However, researchers need to spend a lot of time and cost to complete this process. In the existing satellite communications, most of the observation, relay, and communication satellites are single-star and single-chain, and there is no network. Due to the limitation of energy consumption, the available processors on the satellites have poor performance and cannot meet the growing demand for space computing tasks.

At the same time, the satellite communication rate between satellites and other satellites, and between satellites and the ground, is generally not improved. The amount of data generated by the on-board sensor is large, causing a high delay in the data transmission process, which is very disadvantageous for scenes with high real-time requirements (such as early warning).

The demand for processing data close to its origin led to increased popularity of the edge computing paradigm in research and industry. The main idea behind edge computing is to embed computing resources into the edge of the network, i.e., close to clients. Edge Computing is a Distributed Computing Model when computation takes place near a location where data is collected and analyzed, rather than on a Centralized Server or in the Cloud.  Compared to cloud computing, resources are thus available with low latency and bandwidth costs. For space-based systems, edge computing can save both time and energy. Energy is an even more precious resource in space than on Earth, so cutting down on transmissions, whether to relay information or run equations, can be hugely important. Preventing data from being transmitted to the cloud can also reduce privacy and security risks.

Satellite IoT Edge Nodes:

These nodes are equipped with computing and storage capabilities and utilize a common virtualization platform that can deploy various services as needed. They can communicate with each other and with satellite IoT cloud nodes. This communication and cooperation allow for efficient task distribution and data processing.

For example, sensor-equipped swarms of nanosatellites, such as ChipSats and CubeSats, can use edge systems to process the data they collect in low-Earth orbit without activating the satellite’s power-hungry radio. These satellite swarms, which fly about 250 to 370 miles above the Earth’s surface, can be clustered and organized to support important missions in the study of weather, climate science, national security and disaster response.

Satellite-Based Cloud Computing

Satellite-based cloud computing involves deploying data centers in space, equipped with advanced processors and AI capabilities. These spaceborne data centers function similarly to their terrestrial counterparts, providing computation, storage, and networking services. However, they operate in the unique environment of space, offering distinct advantages for edge and fog computing.

  1. Global Coverage: Satellites provide unparalleled coverage, ensuring consistent data availability and processing power regardless of location.
  2. Reduced Latency: Processing data in space reduces the time required to transmit data to and from ground-based data centers, enabling real-time analytics.
  3. Scalability and Flexibility: Satellite data centers can be scaled up by deploying additional satellites or upgrading existing ones, meeting growing data demands.

Fog Computing in Satellite Systems

Orbital Segment Supplementation: Implementing Fog Computing in satellite IoT systems involves supplementing the orbital segment with computing capacity. This allows satellites to process data from IoT devices within their service area, increasing processing efficiency and reducing delay times.

GEO Satellites with Cloud Data Centers: An alternative solution is to develop and launch GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) satellites equipped with Cloud Data Center Modules as payloads. These satellites can be accessed via GEO Satellite-Repeaters through Inter-Satellite Links. To enhance data storage and computing operations, these satellite cloud computing data centers will be connected to ground-based cloud computing centers via high-speed, secure radio links.

Comparative Capabilities

Satellite IoT Cloud Nodes vs. Edge Nodes:

  • Computing Power: Satellite IoT cloud nodes have more powerful computing and storage capabilities compared to edge nodes. They are equipped with heterogeneous resources such as CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs, allowing them to handle a variety of applications, perform task scheduling, data fusion, and intelligent distribution.
  • Task Management: Cloud nodes can manage the overall task distribution and data processing for the entire satellite network, ensuring efficient operation and service delivery.

Ground Data Centers: These centers offer the highest computing power and most storage resources, acting as the backbone of the satellite IoT network. They facilitate communication with satellite IoT nodes and the ground Internet, ensuring seamless data flow and processing.

Benefits of Hierarchical Network:

  • Task Offloading: Satellite IoT edge nodes can request assistance from satellite IoT cloud nodes or ground data centers to offload computing tasks, ensuring optimal resource utilization.
  • Task Acceptance and Cluster Formation: Edge nodes can accept tasks from cloud nodes or terrestrial data centers and establish fast service clusters with other edge nodes, enhancing processing efficiency.

Key Applications

  1. Remote Sensing and Earth Observation: Satellites equipped with powerful AI processors can analyze vast amounts of data in real-time, providing actionable insights for climate monitoring, disaster response, and environmental protection. For instance, the detection of forest fires, monitoring of deforestation, and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions can all benefit from satellite-based cloud computing.
  2. Agriculture and Resource Management: Precision agriculture relies on timely data to optimize farming practices. Satellites can process multispectral and hyperspectral imagery to monitor crop health, predict yields, and manage water resources efficiently.
  3. Maritime and Transportation: Satellite-based edge computing can enhance the safety and efficiency of maritime operations by providing real-time analytics for navigation, weather forecasting, and vessel tracking. Similarly, in transportation, it can optimize traffic management and improve logistics by processing data from autonomous vehicles and IoT sensors.
  4. Defense and Security: Military operations often require real-time intelligence and situational awareness. Satellite-based data centers can process surveillance data and provide critical insights for mission planning and execution.
  5. Telecommunications and IoT: As the number of IoT devices grows, the need for robust, low-latency data processing becomes crucial. Satellites can serve as edge nodes, processing data from connected devices and reducing the load on terrestrial networks.

Challenges for LEO Edge Computing

Implementing edge computing in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations presents several unique challenges. The highly dynamic nature of these constellations and their limited computational capacity mean that existing edge computing platforms are not yet fully suited for application in LEO environments.

Mobile Server Infrastructure

One major challenge is the mobility of the servers attached to satellites in a LEO constellation. Satellites in LEO orbit the Earth at high speeds—for example, a satellite at an altitude of 550 km must travel at approximately 27,000 km/h to maintain its orbit. Consequently, the servers onboard these satellites move at this speed as well. This necessitates frequent changes in communication partners for static ground station equipment, complicating the implementation of stable and consistent edge computing.

Uniformity in Satellite and Server Models

Satellites in a LEO constellation are typically of the same model to ensure uniform coverage of the Earth as they orbit. Each satellite eventually covers every part of the Earth, making it impractical to deploy different types of satellites for different regions. Therefore, the servers onboard must also be of the same model. While upgrading server capabilities over time is possible as satellites reach the end of their lifespan, developing different versions can significantly increase development and production costs.

Homogeneous Distribution vs. Heterogeneous Demand

Satellites in a LEO constellation are homogeneously distributed across the globe, with evenly spaced satellites in each orbit. This ensures that ground stations have access to a similar number of equally equipped satellites at all times. However, the demand for resources is not homogeneous across the Earth. Urban areas with higher client densities require more resources compared to rural areas or oceans, where the client population is smaller. This discrepancy between resource distribution and demand poses a significant challenge for LEO edge computing.

Limited Compute Capabilities

Due to the constraints of space deployment, the compute capabilities of satellite servers must be limited. Energy consumption and heat generation need to be kept low for economic reasons, as larger heat dissipation mechanisms, batteries, or solar arrays increase the weight and, consequently, the launch costs. Furthermore, satellite servers in LEO cannot be accessed for maintenance. If a satellite or its server fails, it remains failed and can only be de-orbited. Despite this, developers expect high availability for their applications in a LEO edge environment, necessitating a fault-tolerant platform that abstracts the widely distributed and heterogeneous infrastructure.

Fixed Server Capabilities and Limited Scalability

The inability to directly access individual servers means that they cannot be upgraded during their operational lifetime, typically around five years. Thus, the capabilities of the servers and the total capacity of the constellation remain fixed. Additionally, horizontal scalability is limited, as servers can only be placed on satellites that are part of the existing constellation. Expanding the constellation by launching additional satellites requires approval from governmental agencies. Competing space internet companies may lobby to limit constellation sizes, as LEO is a finite resource.

These challenges underscore the complexity of implementing edge computing in LEO satellite constellations. Solutions must address the dynamic nature of these systems, the need for uniformity in hardware, the mismatch between resource distribution and demand, and the limitations on computational capabilities and scalability.

Other Challenges

While the potential of satellite-based cloud computing is immense, several challenges must be addressed:

  1. Cost and Accessibility: Launching and maintaining satellites is expensive. However, advancements in miniaturization and reusable rocket technology are driving costs down, making space more accessible.
  2. Technical Complexity: Developing robust, reliable, and energy-efficient data centers that can operate in the harsh environment of space requires significant innovation. Companies like TelePIX are pioneering in this area, leveraging collaborations with tech giants like NVIDIA to enhance their capabilities.
  3. Regulatory and Security Concerns: Ensuring the security of data and compliance with international regulations is critical. As space becomes a more contested domain, establishing clear policies and protocols will be essential.

Despite these challenges, the future of satellite-based cloud computing looks promising. With ongoing advancements in AI, machine learning, and satellite technology, we are on the cusp of a new era where spaceborne data centers revolutionize how we process and analyze data.

The Future of Satellite-Based Cloud Computing

Ongoing advancements in AI, machine learning, and satellite technology are paving the way for a new era of spaceborne data centers. Companies like OrbitsEdge and LEOcloud are already exploring innovative models, such as integrating off-the-shelf rackmount servers into satellites and developing satellite-based cloud infrastructure.

Case Studies and Industry Developments

OrbitsEdge Plans Racks in Space

Florida-based OrbitsEdge is pioneering a novel approach to space-based data processing by integrating off-the-shelf rackmount servers into a satellite bus. “We’re both edge computing and data center,” said Rick Ward, Chief Technical Officer of OrbitsEdge. “We aim to deploy high-performance computing infrastructure in space to process, cleanse, and aggregate data from multiple sources, providing analysis capabilities. We represent the missing piece of the infrastructure for commercial space.”

OrbitsEdge’s innovative approach enables communication with other satellites to collect and process their data, offering edge computing solutions where traditional data centers are unavailable or too distant. The company sees significant opportunities in offloading and storing data from Earth Observation satellites, transforming it into immediately usable imagery, and delivering results directly to end-users on the ground. OrbitsEdge has engaged in discussions with the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and commercial cloud providers to explore the potential applications of their technology for Earth, space, and even other celestial bodies.

“It’s another location for processing data above the clouds,” said Sylvia France, President of OrbitsEdge. “There’s substantial interest from various sectors, including fintech, where real-time data processing can aid in making buy/sell decisions based on satellite imagery, such as counting cars in parking lots. We’re also in talks with entertainment companies, spanning space tourism to augmented reality firms.”

The OrbitsEdge SatFrame, the company’s proprietary satellite bus, features a standardized 19-inch server rack with a capacity for 5U of hardware. The initial two SatFrame pathfinder satellites will accommodate 18-inch deep hardware, with production designs anticipated to support full-sized 36-inch deep hardware.

OrbitsEdge’s vision of a data center in orbit is set to transform how data is processed and utilized, providing a crucial infrastructure component for commercial space endeavors. With interest from diverse industries and significant potential for enhancing data accessibility and processing, OrbitsEdge is positioned at the forefront of space-based edge computing innovation.

LEOcloud Establishes Partnerships for Satellite-Based Cloud Computing

Satellite communications startup LEOcloud announced a partnership in July 2021 with supercomputer firm Ramon.Space to develop satellite-based cloud computing services. This collaboration aims to leverage the strengths of both companies to create a robust and efficient cloud infrastructure in space.

LEOcloud’s strategy involves two key phases. In Phase 1, the company will offer “low latency, highly secure, high availability” cloud services, connecting customers on the ground with satellite data suppliers, hybrid cloud edge computing services, and global connectivity. This will lay the groundwork for the broader deployment of their technology. Phase 2 will see LEOcloud develop, launch, and operate a satellite-based cloud infrastructure that provides low latency, secure, high availability, and mission-critical cloud services.

“Having access to data from space assets quickly and reliably is absolutely critical to the success of space missions,” said Jonata Puglia, Leaf Space co-founder and CEO, in a statement. He emphasized that working with LEOcloud will enhance Leaf Space’s ground segment as a service business, enabling faster and more reliable access to critical data.

LEOcloud’s innovative approach to satellite-based cloud computing has the potential to revolutionize how data is processed and utilized in space missions and other applications. By partnering with Ramon.Space, they aim to bring advanced supercomputing capabilities to the edge of space, ensuring that data from space assets is accessible and actionable in real time.

AWS Runs Compute and Machine Learning Services on Orbiting Satellites

In November 2022, Amazon Web Services (AWS) achieved a groundbreaking milestone by successfully deploying a suite of AWS compute and machine learning (ML) software on an orbiting satellite. This pioneering experiment, conducted over the past 10 months in low Earth orbit (LEO), aimed to revolutionize how satellite data is processed and utilized directly in space using cloud capabilities.

The initiative allows AWS to extend its edge computing capabilities to orbiting satellites for the first time. This means that customers can now analyze vast amounts of raw satellite data onboard and transmit only the most relevant information back to Earth. By reducing the need for extensive data downlinking, AWS aims to lower costs and enable faster decision-making processes.

Max Peterson, AWS Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector, emphasized the transformative impact of this achievement: “Using AWS software to perform real-time data analysis onboard an orbiting satellite, and delivering that analysis directly to decision makers via the cloud, is a definite shift in existing approaches to space data management. It also helps push the boundaries of what we believe is possible for satellite operations.”

AWS partnered closely with D-Orbit and Unibap, key players in the global space industry, to tackle technical challenges associated with satellite operations such as high latency and limited bandwidth. D-Orbit, a member of the AWS Partner Network (APN) and leader in space logistics, applied AWS compute and ML services to analyze Earth Observation (EO) imagery onboard its ION satellite. This collaboration enabled rapid analysis of large datasets directly in space, enhancing operational efficiency and data security.

Sergio Mucciarelli, Vice President of Commercial Sales at D-Orbit, highlighted the significance of edge computing in space: “Our customers demand secure, low-latency processing of satellite data, which is often constrained by traditional methods requiring all data to be downlinked for ground processing. Edge computing, enabled by purpose-built space infrastructure, provides the reliability needed to run critical workloads in the challenging space environment.”

The project integrated AWS ML models and IoT Greengrass for cloud management and analytics, ensuring continuous operation even during periods of limited connectivity. Unibap, a high-tech company based in Sweden and another AWS Partner, developed a space-qualified processing payload to host these AWS services onboard the satellite.

Dr. Fredrik Bruhn, Chief Evangelist at Unibap, emphasized the practical benefits: “Real-time access to AWS edge services on orbit allows users to gain timely insights and optimize satellite and ground resource utilization. This capability transforms raw satellite data into actionable information, supporting tasks such as real-time alerts, autonomous information acquisition through federated learning, and enhanced data value.”

Throughout the experiment, AWS applied advanced ML models to satellite sensor data to autonomously identify objects such as clouds, wildfire smoke, buildings, and ships. AWS AI and ML services efficiently processed large image datasets, reducing file sizes by up to 42% and significantly speeding up data processing and inference times.

To manage bidirectional data movement between the satellite and AWS Cloud over multiple ground station contacts, the team implemented a reliable TCP/IP proxy. This innovation simplified file transfer management, automating downlink processes and improving communication efficiency between space and ground operations.

AWS’s successful deployment of compute and ML services on orbiting satellites marks a significant advancement in space technology, paving the way for enhanced space data analytics, improved operational efficiency, and new opportunities for real-time applications in both space missions and commercial sectors.

TelePIX Unveils TetraPLEX: A Breakthrough AI Processor for Satellites

TelePIX, a pioneering space startup, has announced the development of TetraPLEX, a high-performance AI processor designed specifically for satellites. TetraPLEX boasts an impressive 10 trillion operations per second, marking a significant advancement in satellite technology.

Key Features and Capabilities

  • On-Board Processor (OBP): TetraPLEX enables in-space AI processing and edge computing, allowing for efficient, on-the-spot data analysis within satellites. This reduces the time and cost associated with traditional ground-based processing.
  • Collaboration with NVIDIA: Developed in partnership with NVIDIA, TetraPLEX leverages the powerful AI processing capabilities of the NVIDIA Jetson Orin NX system-on-module. As a member of NVIDIA Inception, TelePIX has benefited from extensive support and training on the latest NVIDIA technologies.
  • Application in Climate Science: TetraPLEX is poised to revolutionize real-time analysis of large datasets in space, particularly for environmental monitoring tasks such as greenhouse gas tracking. It also supports the “Spaceborne ESG AI Cloud Edge Computing Solution,” a cloud-based AI platform for satellites created by TelePIX.

“By enhancing satellite data processing with TetraPLEX, we aim to propel the entire satellite data service industry forward and significantly contribute to climate change response,” said Dongshik Won, Director at TelePIX. This technology positions TelePIX to enter the global market with cutting-edge data analytics services focused on climate science.

TelePIX plans to launch TetraPLEX in June 2024. The company will be the first globally to demonstrate real-time, high-speed parallel processing of satellite big data AI models, with an initial focus on blue carbon monitoring. This will highlight the crucial role of marine ecosystems, such as seaweed and mangroves, in carbon absorption and storage.

Future Services

TelePIX also plans to introduce South Korea’s first Spaceborne AI Cloud platform service. This will enable in-space processing of software or algorithms using AWS Ground Station and AI/machine learning services. The platform will offer fast and flexible edge computing capabilities for various applications, including climate change mitigation through greenhouse gas monitoring.

TelePIX’s TetraPLEX represents a significant leap in satellite technology, providing advanced, real-time data processing capabilities that are set to transform the satellite data service industry and support critical environmental initiatives.


Satellite-based cloud computing is set to revolutionize various industries by bringing the power of edge and fog computing to space. Deploying data centers on satellites offers global coverage, reduced latency, and enhanced real-time data processing capabilities. As technology evolves, the integration of spaceborne data centers will drive innovation and address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from climate monitoring to global communications. The future of satellite technology is not just about reaching new heights in space, but also about transforming how we process and utilize data here on Earth.




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