Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, March 4, 2021
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LyteLoop Wants to Take Data Storage Beyond the Clouds Into Orbit Around Earth 

Source: LyteLoop

Diminishing returns on costly data center investments—facilities already bulging at the seams—are engendering novel architectures for storing data. Early prototypes such as Microsoft’s submersible data center address cooling requirements and reliability issues.

Still, the ongoing problem is scale, and finding disruptive ways of securely storing and accessing exabytes of data without breaking the bank.

A New York-based startup has seen the light, proposing to launch a satellite constellation equipped with ultra-high bandwidth lasers that would serve as an orbiting hyperscale data center capable of storing and securing data in perpetual motion.

LyteLoop announced a follow-on $40 million funding round earlier this month that will help the five-year-old startup move its photonics-based data storage architecture from the laboratory to orbit. The concept employs ultra-high bandwidth lasers to store data as light, then transmits it between satellites in “a constant state of perpetual motion.”

Traditional data center architectures consist of processing, storage and transport, the latter two being separate layers. “We’re replacing the storage with the [photonics] link,” said LyteLoop CEO Ohad Harlev. “The link is the storage.”

Among the startup’s value propositions is using photonics to replace the costly data transport layer, Harlev noted in an interview, greatly reducing operational costs.

Along with scale, LytleLoop promises global coverage that would provide data access from nearly anywhere on Earth. Harlev also notes the proposed constellation’s extra layers of data security enabled by photonics technology—security he said would be physically impossible on the ground.

Those layers include quantum encryption and the security and privacy advantages of data in constant motion while moving at the speed of light.

LyteLoop's constellation would bounce data between satellites, storing data on high-bandwidth lasers between them. (Source: LyteLoop)

In laboratory tests, LyteLoop’s working prototype has been able to transmit and receive large data files error-free at simulated distances of 300 billion kilometers. By comparison, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has traveled about 22.7 billion kilometers from Earth since its launch in 1977.

LyteLoop said it latest funding round moves it closer to goal of launching six prototype satellites within three years. If that deadline is met, Harlev expects the laser-powered data storage satellite constellation to be operational in about five years.

“We’re good to go for the next three years,” he added.

Having recently determined the details of its proposed satellite constellation, including the number and types of satellites needed in low-earth and geosynchronous orbits, the startup is now in the midst of discussions with multiple launch providers.

LyteLoop engineers are meanwhile designing the satellite payload, using proprietary technology to build optics, photonics, aperture arrays and core avionics. The payload will be integrated by the startup with a third-party satellite.

“We’re going to start slow and steady” with the six-satellite proof-of-concept by 2024, Harlov said, then scale the constellation. “We’re trying to be a data center operator,” he added, which will result in working with other low-earth orbit access providers to secure downlinks.

The company asserts that data center storage advances have been mostly evolutionary. In the era of big data, the CEO argues, the next steps in storage and transport must be “revolutionary.” The current enterprise state of the art are exascale-class terrestrial data centers such as Facebook’s 1-exabyte storage warehouse.

Once operational, Harlev said LyteLoop’s space-based photonics approach could double that amount of data storage while adding layers of security and privacy.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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