July 19, 2024

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Data centers in space? The EU thinks they’re a good idea

Data centers in space? The EU thinks they’re a good idea

More and more data centers are needed for all the accurate information on the Internet, and artificial intelligence has greatly accelerated growth. They take up a lot of space and consume a lot of energy, but a new study commissioned by the European Commission has a solution: launch them into space!

The European Union has spent €2.1 million on a research project called Advanced Space Cloud for European Net Zero Emissions and Data Sovereignty (beautifully abbreviated to ASCEND). After 16 months of research, they came to the conclusion that data centers in space are “technically and economically feasible” and also help save the environment. Data centers will benefit more from solar energy outside the atmosphere.

The biggest problem with data centers is that we need them, but at the same time they put enormous pressure on energy production. Data centers need constant cooling and this requires electricity or water. Artificial intelligence has exacerbated the problem, as these data centers require on average three times more energy, according to the American news site cnbc. They also cite research that data centers around the world will need approximately 1,000 terawatt hours as of 2026. This is similar to the energy consumption of the whole of Japan.

1,300 data centers in space

ASCEND’s plan is to launch around 13 data centers by 2036, each with a capacity of 10 megawatts. By 2050, there should be 1,300, together generating a gigawatt of power. 2050 also happens to be the year the EU wants to become climate neutral. However, it would cost a lot of fuel to transport all these data centers into space. Each “block,” a self-sufficient data center, would have to be launched separately. That’s why another research group is developing an environmentally friendly launch method on behalf of the EU. If successful, the launch would cost only a tenth of the fuel.

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Microsoft also wants to go to space.

There are also critics. CNBC quotes Michael Winterson, managing director of the European Data Centre Association, who acknowledges that solar power works much better in space. Meanwhile, it would cost millions in fuel to keep data centres in orbit. And it’s also difficult to protect data centres in space from hostile nations. Still, the plan is surprisingly popular because Microsoft is also researching AI data centres in space with space company Loft Orbital.

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