NASA relies on cloud computing to continue monitoring our planet


State-of-the-art satellites to be launched over the next two years to monitor Earth’s vital signs will collect vast amounts of data: monitoring sea level and coastal currents, monitoring the amount of fresh water flowing into our lakes and rivers. , detect the slightest anomaly on the surface, etc. Essential data to be used to establish better climate models and potentially prevent disasters. You still have to be able to process, store and analyze this flood of information …

According to Fortune Business Insights, the cloud computing market will reach more than $ 791 billion by 2028. And it’s easy to understand why: the explosion of data, in all fields of activity, requires processing capabilities and storage. always greater than that of a company. it cannot always provide it on its own. Therefore, most IT resources are now outsourced to dedicated platforms. The United States Space Agency will be no exception.

Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Oracle Cloud are currently among the most widely used cloud computing solutions in the world. Profiles that show the technical skills inherent in these platforms are highly sought after nowadays, which is why training offerings in this area are increasing enormously; For example, it is possible to follow Azure training to become certified and demonstrate that you fully master Microsoft’s cloud solution, which is used today by many companies in all industries.

An ever-expanding data repository

It seems that NASA scientists must also prepare for a massive use of the cloud. Currently, the Agency’s scientific data archive, which is required to be maintained in perpetuity, is estimated to be around 40 petabytes (or 1,015 bytes), but by 2025 it is expected to contain more than 245 petabytes of data.

The blame for future ground missions, notably SWOT and NISAR, which are scheduled to launch in late 2022 and early 2023 respectively. “Five or six years ago, we realized that future land missions would generate a huge volume of data and that the systems we were using would quickly become inadequate,” explains Suresh Vannan, director of Active Distributed Physical Oceanography. Archive Center, based in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This center is one of many NASA sites responsible for processing and archiving data from Earth observation satellites. Currently, these satellites send raw data to ground stations, where engineers transform it to make it understandable, a process that increases file sizes. These files are then transferred to a storage server; when a researcher needs to access it, he connects to this server and then downloads the desired data to his own machine.

For older missions, which return relatively small amounts of data, this procedure is not really a problem. But for future missions, this will no longer be possible. “We just don’t have the additional physical server space at JPL with enough capacity and flexibility to support both NISAR and SWOT,” said Hook Hua, JPL’s science data systems architect for both missions. Not to mention, setting up and operating physical data centers on premises is very expensive.

A new era for earth sciences

The objective of the SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) mission is to monitor the level of the oceans and surface waters, or to estimate the flow of rivers; These data will make it possible in particular to improve climate models. The NISAR (NASA-Indian Space Research Organization Synthetic Aperture Radar) mission must, for its part, study the dynamics of our planet, the ongoing processes in the Arctic regions, and then monitor ecosystems and groundwater. These two missions alone will produce around 100 terabytes (1012 bytes) of data per day!

So if someone wanted to download a day’s data from SWOT to their computer, it would take nearly 20 laptops, each capable of storing a terabyte of data, NASA said. Similarly, if a researcher were to download the equivalent of four days of NISAR data over an average home internet connection, it would take about a year!

“This is a new era for Earth-observation missions, and the sheer amount of data they will generate requires a new era for data processing,” said Kevin Murphy, chief scientist for the Science Mission Directorate at the United States. POT. Therefore, the US agency has decidedly decided to rely on cloud computing to carry out its various missions, as part of its Earth Science Data and Information Systems (ESDIS) project. To do this, he turned to the company Raytheon Intelligence & Space, to design a secure cloud-based platform, known as Earthdata Cloud.

The Sentinel-6 satellite, launched in November 2020 and dedicated to sea level monitoring, is NASA’s first satellite to be based on this system; the data it produces is more easily accessible to scientists. The cloud not only makes data easier to access, but obviously eliminates material costs associated with media (hard drives, storage arrays) and infrastructure. For Alex Gardner, a member of the NISAR team, the cloud will not replace all methods of working in scientific data sets, but today it seems to be an essential solution for the field of earth sciences. “I hope that in five to ten years my computer’s hard drive will be wiped and I will explore the new flood of data in the cloud,” he said.


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