LEOcloud, Microsoft crew up with Axiom Area to place cloud infrastructure in orbit

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An artist’s conception shows Axiom Station taking shape in orbit. (Axiom Space Illustration)

When Houston-based Axiom Space starts putting together its commercial space station, some out-of-this-world infrastructure for cloud computing could be close behind — and Microsoft could help make it happen.

That vision of “infrastructure as a service” in low Earth orbit, or LEO, is what’s behind a strategic collaboration agreement involving Axiom Space, Microsoft Azure Space and a Virginia-based venture called LEOcloud. The deal sets the stage for developing and delivering space-based cloud services from commercial assets.

“It’s been an amazing ride to bring all this to this level of reality,” LEOcloud founder Dennis Gatens told GeekWire.

Gatens has been working with partners including Ramon.Space on a line of radiation-hardened compute and data storage hardware that’s well-suited for the space environment. His plan calls for LEOcloud’s infrastructure to host Azure Space’s cloud computing platform on the orbital modules currently being developed by Axiom Space.

Steve Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, is fully on board.

“Our collaboration combines the possibilities of space with the power of Microsoft Azure extending its capabilities anywhere in the universe through new space infrastructure, making cloud connectivity and compute increasingly attainable for all at the ultimate edge — on orbit in space,” Kitay said today in a news release.

LEOcloud’s Space Edge infrastructure includes support for Red Hat OpenShift, a leading Kubernetes platform for enterprise cloud services. “Red Hat is excited to be working with LEOcloud in this latest collaboration to deliver open hybrid cloud computing to the next frontier with edge computing,” said Francis Chow, Red Hat’s vice president and general manager for in-vehicle operating system and edge

Why put the cloud in space? Gatens cites three potential advantages: lower latency for space-based applications; increased data security due to the 250-mile “air gap” between the planet’s surface and low Earth orbit; and less need to transmit expensive streams of unprocessed data from orbit to the ground.

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“Raw data is generally high-volume data that needs to be refined at a data center, basically,” he explained. “So you move those resources into space, and you reduce the latency, which will be very important for certain use cases, particularly in government.”

Gatens said putting cloud computing hardware on a commercial space station, like the one that Axiom Space is building, makes more sense than putting it on a constellation of satellites. “The commercial space stations provide relatively significant volume versus, for example, the SWAP [size, weight and power] constraints on a satellite to provide significant resources for compute and data storage,” he said.

Axiom Space is currently planning to deliver its first commercial space module to the International Space Station in 2025, and add more modules over the course of several years. When the International Space Station is retired, perhaps in the 2030-2031 time frame, Axiom intends to detach its modules to serve as a standalone orbital outpost.

Space-based cloud services could theoretically be extended beyond low Earth orbit to cislunar space — that is, the expanse stretching from Earth to the moon. “There’s clearly going to be a market in LEO,” Gatens said. “That’s where we start with Axiom Space, and then cislunar is already under discussion.”

Gatens declined to discuss the financial details behind the deal with Axiom Space, but he characterized Axiom as a customer — which implies that some of the anticipated revenue from space-based cloud services would flow from Axiom to LEOcloud and its partners.

Rob Meyerson, who’s an operating partner at C5 Capital USA and a member of Axiom Space’s board of directors, told GeekWire last year that compute and data storage could be an attractive new market for the space industry. “We have a lot of data that’s created in space, but how valuable would it be to actually do compute and storage in space?” he asked.

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With an assist from LEOcloud and Microsoft, Axiom Space may be about to find out.

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