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Current technology focuses on increasing the speed and volume of information processing, yet that approach places strain on the planet. Networks are stretched to the max, facing outages sparked by a natural disaster, bad weather, human error, or network overload. It’s abundantly clear we need to reconsider the communications infrastructure that unites our world.

IOWN technology will extend into outer space as NTT seeks to create an independent, decarbonized and self-sustainable infrastructure in space. Space Computing aims to build a space ICT infrastructure by building an optical wireless communication network in outer space and a mobile network in the stratosphere and connecting them to the ground through optical technology.

The concept of space-integrated computing networks is being promoted by Space Compass – a joint venture created by NTT and Sky Perfect JSAT in April 2022. Through the collaboration, the company will create connections between people and things on the ground with those at sea, in the air and even in outer space using optical communication at high speeds. This capability will allow development of the Beyond 5G/6G mobile network, where new high altitude parameter stations (HAPS) would be able to cover terrestrial communication bands throughout Japan from the stratosphere and low earth orbits in space, enabling real-time observation of the Earth.

Space-based sustainable data centers

The current project is focused on enabling real-time transmission of imagery data from space. This could, in principle, be achieved by sending more observation satellites into space. However, when numerous satellites attempt to transmit data, problems arise with increased lag time. Currently, observation satellites take 90 minutes to circle the globe so data transmission of images can take days, or even weeks to reach Earth. As a result, many images are being discarded, without being used.

With a geostationary satellite, images can be transmitted to the base stations on Earth instantly, making it possible to better predict and track the course of advancing extreme weather events. The Space Integrated Computing Network can gather data from the Earth, processing and analyzing the data faster than today’s means. We can reduce the exchange of large volumes of data between Earth and space, speeding up the process of transfer times. NTT satellites and a new space and earth sensing platform will use low-orbit satellite technology to collect data from IoT terminals positioned around the Earth. This will allow us to collect environmental information and data from farms, offshore wind terminals, or autonomous vehicles to learn, predict and prevent.

Space data centers will be possible with IOWN, by combining low-power photonics-electronics convergence technology with a computing platform that can immediately analyze data. Observation satellites are the main satellites that generate data and optical data relays aim to transmit the data, generated by these satellites, to the ground in real-time. Cloud servers that carry out computing processes will be placed next to networks on the ground. The same concept would be applied in space by installing computing functions next to the data relay. Combining these two functions creates a data center.

New energy sources are possible from space

New optical technology makes data communications faster and reduces electricity consumption to one-hundredth of today’s volumes. We are also exploring how a space-based network can reduce carbon loads by harnessing solar power for the electricity used for data processing.

Space-based infrastructure means no service interruptions or risks from natural disasters, even for mobile coverage. In the push to further advance 5G and introduce 6G, initiatives are underway to expand coverage from beyond the oceans and air.

Low-orbit satellites and high-altitude platform stations will form a mobile communications platform for access launching connectivity services and applications such as messaging and ultra-wide area coverage here on Earth.

This independent, carbon-free, autonomous space infrastructure is planned to launch in 2025 with initial demonstration and trials getting started in 2023. It promises to connect the vastness of space using light to deliver the ultimate eco-friendly infrastructure and shift away from terrestrial energy sources.