At its Mars conference, Amazon announced today that it has quietly sent one of its AWS Snowcone computing and storage devices into space on the Axiom mission to the International Space Station.
For the most part, this was Snowcone ready, which AWS actually built to be durable enough to be shipped by UPS, even though the company had to run months of testing to get it certified for this flight.
“When you think about bringing cloud computing to the edge, in environments that are remote, disconnected, and rugged — after 35 years in the space industry — there is no longer a harsh, remote, rugged, unforgiving environment, quite frankly, of the space environment,” said Clint Crosier, Director of Space and Satellites at AWS is a retired US Air Force major who helped oversee the founding of the US Space Force before retiring and then joined AWS last year. “With a global industry space of $425 billion today and projected to reach $1 trillion by 2040 by all major analysts — tripling the number of satellites launched between 2018 and 2022 — for all these reasons, customers tell us They need the same cloud computing capabilities that are close to their workloads that happen to be far from the planet in space as they do on Earth.”
To certify the Snowball, the smallest of the Snow family of high-end computing and data transmission devices, AWS had to run it through five months of NASA thermal, vacuum, acoustic, and vibration testing (with no radiation testing required because the device would have been used in the protected ISS environment). Once at the space station, the team, led by AWS’s Daryl Shock, plugged it in, uploaded an object-detection ML model to it and played it for the duration of the Axiom mission.
The astronauts on the Axiom mission conducted a total of 25 experiments – including the snowball experiment. As Crosier pointed out, they had to take pictures and document all the equipment they had brought on the plane and then taken with them. Snowball’s object detection model helped them index all of these (and mark items that were to be excluded from the general distribution).
Crosier admitted that this was a relatively simple proposition, but conducting the certification process taught the company a lot and also paved the way for future assignments. “That I was The experimental who – which we she did In arbit but The Full to treat, as such we Think Around The future Requirements for Cloud computing in outer space, this what was it truly Joy Around Because we Think He. She Guide in a Full the new era in outer space innovation – wchicken You are Can Currently, for The first time Ever, Bring edge computing Capabilities on me orbit,” he said.
And that’s what this is really about. Because the goal here isn’t to fly current snowballs or their bigger siblings out into space so much, but to take what teams have learned from these missions (and Amazon is already working with Axiom on future missions) and then perhaps integrate more complex advanced computing capabilities into the satellites as well. What exactly this will look like remains to be seen. As any Amazon executive who has undergone the company’s media training will tell you in every interview, the company listens to its customers and works from there.
“We work with our customers to meet their needs,” Crosier said. “This is one of the hallmarks of AWS and the things I learned about joining them after 33 years in the US military. And so if customers see the value and the need for a position [edge] computing capabilities on satellites, you can rightly expect that we’re listening to that and figuring out how we can meet their needs.”
Amazon and AWS are already working with Blue Origin to provide computing capabilities for the commercial Orbital Reef space station.