The past two years have been difficult in many ways for both individuals and businesses. As a global community, we haven’t been able to travel long distances due to various restrictions, but that doesn’t mean we stop reaching for the stars.
During this same period, monumental advances and achievements in the field of space exploration have been made – since the successful launch of the Inspiration 4 SpaceX, which carried four civilian astronauts into space, to NASA’s Lucy mission, launched to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids in a quest for a deeper understanding of the planetary origins and formation of our solar system.
We have also seen space exploration requisitioned by many private companies with the successful launches of Rocket labs and Virgin orbit, while Space Perspective has started raising money for a balloon-based business that will take paying customers into the stratosphere.
These advances have amazed young and old and have given new meaning to the space race. Actor William Shatner, best known for his role as Captain Kirk on “Star Trek,” recently made history as the oldest person to ever fly in space. The 90-year-old was one of four passengers aboard Blue Origin’s second manned space flight.
With the “last frontier” now open to private companies, how do we transform the way we continually update the software that runs in space? The term ‘digital transformation’ is almost ubiquitous here on Earth, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that its concepts will also play a key supporting role in the next wave of space exploration.
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Why DevOps in space?
One of the great revelations of the new space industry is that it is eaten up by software. The ability of software to manage communication satellites and do what Star link fact – developing a low latency Internet system for consumers – is vital.
When you look at everything that is going on in “new space” – looking at Earth, traveling to deep space, the moon, Mars, etc. – all these achievements would not be possible without software. Software is getting smarter, better and easier to update; However, the amount of computing power required to execute software commands in space is increasing exponentially.
Meanwhile, the cost of launching payloads into space is falling rapidly, especially compared to just five years ago. Currently, there are more than 2,000 functional satellites in orbit, but the planned constellations will add more than 40,000 satellites in the years to come. We are going to see more and more companies building more advanced infrastructures faster in order to continue to upgrade their satellites and constellations with more efficient and powerful software.
As we see in other environments where advanced computing is essential – automotive, energy / utilities, warehouses and last mile retail delivery, to name a few – the companies that update reliably, securely and continuously their satellite software will have a huge advantage over the competition.
Release quickly or risk crashing your satellites
One of the main technological problems of space travel is the consumption of energy. On Earth we’re starting to see more efficient processor and memory, but in space it’s pretty hard to shed heat from your processor, making power consumption the essential component. From hardware to software to how you perform processing, everything needs to factor in power consumption.
On the other hand, in space, there is one thing that you have a lot of (obviously): space. This means that the size of the physical hardware is of less concern. Weight and power consumption are bigger issues, as these factors also impact the way chips and microprocessors are designed.
A good example of this can be found in the Ramon Space design. The company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning-based processors to create space-resistant supercomputing systems with Earth-like computing capabilities, with the hardware components ultimately controlled by the software they use. The idea is to optimize the way software and hardware are used so that applications can be developed and adapted in real time, as they would be here on Earth.
In this context, DevOps coding, testing, validation, analysis, and distribution practices are roughly the same as on Earth, but the types of hardware, emulation, feedback loops, and reliable testing. of software are very different.
My personal take is that we need to create a new way to do continuous delivery and continuous updates in space. On Earth, many organizations use an orchestrator to manage continuous update processes: automated configuration, management, and coordination of systems, applications, and services to help IT teams effectively manage complex tasks and workflows. As of yet, there is no equivalent to this for use with satellites in space, and the ones that do exist are extremely limiting.
For example, an orchestrator needs to send and monitor satellite updates from the ground, which creates a high risk for issues like data security.
Today’s space innovators need to think about a way to give satellites the ability to receive all the information and data needed to perform updates properly, as well as recover quickly and correctly after bad updates to ensure a valid set of binaries on the satellite. Having said that, I am optimistic that we are at the start of a revolution that will soon make the ability to efficiently deliver binaries to next generation satellites a reality.
Go boldly where no one (or computer system) has gone before
When thinking about the current space race, it’s hard not to think about “Star Trek” and how we as an industry and global community are boldly going where no one has gone before.
We continue to adapt and change to the environment and the challenges we face on Earth, and this is now spreading to outer space. Shatner’s trip to space was moving for the legendary actor; on his return, he said Blue Origin and Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, “I am so filled with emotion about what just happened. I come, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I never get over it.
This raw human emotion is the product of the innovative technology that made travel possible, along with a curiosity and playful desire to push boundaries.
Under this new paradigm, space has transformed from the “last frontier” to the next opportunity with almost endless possibilities. In that sense, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime time to be alive, and I encourage my DevOps colleagues across all industries to keep aiming for the stars, literally.