Is the International Space Station the Ultimate IoT Edge Use Case?

Cartoon image of International Space Station floating in space

Posted on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

One of the biggest technical hurdles to IoT success is dealing with data at the edge. Sensors generate vast amounts of data that needs to be processed and actioned almost immediately– but how is that information to be stored and transferred? 

As CTOs try to develop solutions to this challenge, inspiration may be found in space.

The most extreme edge computing use case?

Orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most sophisticated science labs ever constructed. Conducting hundreds of experiments every day, the astronauts on board are helping humanity better understand space and life on Earth itself.

As you would expect, these experiments generate data. A lot of data. Including observations, high-definition photographs and information from all of the onboard systems and sensors, the ISS generates around 28TB of data every day.

A lot of this information is analyzed and actioned in-situ, and all of it is sent back to Earth for additional analysis, much like an IoT sensor network. 

A sophisticated data collection network

The backbone of the ISS data collection program is a network of strategically placed Tracking and Data Relay Satellites which collect information from the space station and beam it back to Earth. A series of collection stations then forward the data back to NASA for permanent storage in a traditional data warehouse. To prevent bottlenecks, the ISS has the equivalent of a 300MB connection back to Earth.

Any takeaways?

Although a terrestrial IoT deployment is likely to be considerably different to the ISS, there are still two key factors to note.

First, the ISS uses a multi-relay process for collecting data. The network of repeater satellites ensures that sensor information can always be collected, and that it is forwarded effectively back to Earth.

Second, the entire system relies on a fast data connection right to the edge of the infrastructure. With 300MB of bandwidth, latency is removed at every point of the network, ensuring that nothing is missed or left in a queue on the ISS. 

The ISS really is an extreme example of IoT– and NASA really is leading the way.

To discuss your IoT storage options and how CDS may be able to assist, please give us a call.

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