The space economy has been hot this year and, according to the Space Foundation, 2022 will be a big year for the space economy with 15 new launch vehicles making their debut, more than any other year in space history. What can be done on the moon is testing the imagination of scientists. Lonestar, a startup company in the United States, is preparing to build a data center on the moon and it is expected to send a miniature experimental version to the moon next year.
Modern data centers consume a lot of power, require extremely complex cooling systems, and are physically vulnerable to natural disasters and military conflict. As computing demands grow, data centers will only become more complex, power-hungry, and heat-generating in the future. There are several radical ways to solve the power and cooling problem, such as placing the data center in the deep ocean but the most outrageous idea is to put the data center on the moon. Lonestar, an American startup that does not feel this is surreal at all and has booked two spaceflights to put equipment on the moon, with the ultimate goal of building a data center on the moon powered by a nuclear power plant.
The founder of Lonestar stated, "data is the greatest currency humans have ever created, almost everything we do depends on it, and it is too important to us as a species to be stored in Earth's increasingly fragile biosphere. Earth’s largest satellite, our Moon, represents the ideal place to safely store our future.”
Lonestar is made up of the former CEO of satellite operator ManSat, the former CEO of satellite imagery company IceyeUS, and the head of hardware manufacturing for Google's data centers, as well as bankers. Lonestar has submitted an application to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the spectrum licenses needed to provide bandwidth on the moon. The company also signed a contract with architecture firm BIG for the exterior design of the first lunar data center. Lonestar's data center plans to use RISC-V open source instruction set architecture (ISA)-based Skycorp servers, which also operates servers on the International Space Station.
The idea of a traditional data center in space is not as far-fetched as it sounds, with HPE Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge and HPE ProLiant servers running on the ISS with Nvidia T4 GPUs for AI workloads as of February 2021. The minting of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) later began at the end of the year with the aim of testing various computing and communication technologies in space, demonstrating a prototype of a moon-based cloud service.
There are many challenges in establishing a data center on the moon. In addition to the huge cost of sending a server to the moon, powering the server and connecting to the network are two other challenges. The Lonestar data center will use solar cells and a small, helium-3-based nuclear power plant. Helium-3 is the most ideal fuel for nuclear fusion and does not produce nuclear radiation. Helium-3 reserves are scarce on Earth but there are large amounts of helium-3 on the moon.
Connecting equipment to the internet is also risky, and Lonestar has submitted spectrum files but it takes about 2.7 seconds for radio waves to reach the lunar surface and back, which may be too slow for today's reaction rates. In addition, although there are no fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural disasters on the moon, the locale has another major problem, which is meteorite bombardment. It is estimated that about 1.4 tons of meteorites fall on the surface of the moon every day. It is not yet clear how the Lonestar plan will mitigate this risk.
Although the equipment cost of the lunar data center is slightly higher than that of terrestrial equipment, operational cost is lower and power consumption is much less. Lonestar’s founder stated, traditional costs and concerns of terrestrial data centers, including power to operate, power to cool, communication costs, are hardly a problem in space. Lonestar has signed a contract with lunar lander developer Intuitive Machines to deploy a small proof-of-concept data center on the moon next year, with the goal of establishing a separate data center on the moon in 2026.