The Japanese operator says it is looking to trial a satellite system that can process and store data as early as 2022

According to reports from Nikkei, NTT is set to explore the concept of satellite data centres in partnership with SKY Perfect JSAT Holdings, Japan’s first private satellite communications company.

The project will see NTT equip each satellite with the computing power to process data, with the various satellites working in tandem with one another to function similarly to an orbital data centre. 

The concept here is fairly simple. Traditionally, data received by a satellite must be transmitted back to Earth in order to be stored and analysed, a process which not only takes time but also requires a large amount of electricity. NTT suggests that if such processes could instead be handled while still in space, then only relevant data would be transmitted back to Earth, significantly speeding up the data exchange. 

Satellite photographs, for example, currently take a day to be sent from a satellite to receivers back on earth, but processing the images in space could reduce this to just a few hours.

NTT also notes that satellite data centres could play a key role in data preservation, being unaffected by major natural disasters, such as the earthquakes which hit Japan so regularly. 

The companies hope to launch the satellite in 2025, with commercial operations to begin the following year. 

Positioning data centres in novel locations to improve effectiveness is nothing new for the telecoms industry. Back in 2016, Microsoft’s Project Natick began to explore the concept of underwater data centres, arguing that it had benefits such as reduced cooling costs; the ability to use clean, renewable tidal energy; and lower latency and better application performance for those living near the coast.

The data centre, which was deployed in 2018 near the Shetland Islands, was met with much scepticism, with critics noting the technical challenges as well as legal ones surrounding ocean deployment. 

Nonetheless, results were finally gathered in 2020, with the project largely deemed a success. Discussions have now turned to how underwater data centres could be scaled up to power the full suite of Microsoft Azure cloud services. 

Could NTT’s space-based data centre concept follow a similar trajectory? With the likes of SpaceX’s Starlink launching over a thousand satellites in the last couple of years, and now Amazon’s Project Kuiper hot on their heels, satellite broadband could soon become a major player in the telecoms space. The cost of space-based operations is dropping and soon new types of space infrastructure, such as data centres, will surely become far more achievable.


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