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Technology

Japan's NTT and SKY Perfect JSAT to develop data center in space

System will process and store info, speeding up transfers, cutting energy use

Japan's NTT and SKY Perfect JSAT hope to launch a satellite system that can process and store data by 2025. (Source photos by Kyodo and Reuters) 

TOKYO -- NTT will develop a satellite system that can process and store data in space, Nikkei has learned.

NTT will collaborate with Japan's SKY Perfect JSAT Holdings, which has expertise in satellite operations, in developing the project. NTT is aiming to start trials as early as 2022. All being well, both companies hope to launch the satellite in 2025 and roll it out for practical use by 2026.

Currently, data received by a satellite have to be sent back to earth to be analyzed in a data center. This clogs up data traffic and it also means that data centers suck up huge amounts of electricity.

NTT's system will change that. The company aims to equip each satellite with computing functions that can process data. A network of satellites will be connected by optical communications to act as a pseudo data center.

NTT's satellite will gather a wide range of data from earth, such as the operation of offshore wind turbines and automated vehicles, the yields of large-scale farms, and logistics in mountainous regions. After processing and analyzing such data, the satellite will send back only relevant information to earth.

This makes it possible to reduce the exchange of massive data between space and earth, speeding up the process of data transfer. For example, an aerial photograph taken by a satellite can be sent to receivers within a few hours, while it currently takes a day.

The new system will use the "IOWN" optical communication technology that NTT develops. This makes data communication faster and reduces electricity consumption to one-hundredth of what it is now. NTT thinks it will also help decarbonization as the electricity used for data processing will come from solar power.

When it comes to data preservation, space infrastructure is considered promising as there is no risk of natural disasters such as earthquakes. SKY Perfect is the first private company in Japan to launch satellite communications. Both companies hope to operate hundreds of satellites in the future.

The space communication services landscape is fiercely competitive. In July, Amazon.com announced that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave it the greenlight to enter the business. Amazon is planning to invest $10 billion to deploy over 3,000 satellites.

U.S. startup SpaceX led by controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk is also planning to launch 12,000 satellites. Morgan Stanley estimates that the market size of space business will triple to 120 trillion yen by 2040 from 2016.

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