Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum silently in the darkness below the surface of the Moon.
This is where some of the most important data is stored, to keep it intact for as long as possible. The idea sounds like something out of science fiction, but a startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build data centers on the Moon to back up the world’s data.
“It is inconceivable to me that we keep our most valuable assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we drop bombs and burn things,” said Christopher Stott, Founder and CEO of Lonestar. The register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”
Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all the seeds in the world in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on Norway’s Arctic island of Spitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect the diversity of cultures, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge.
“If we don’t, what will happen to our data on Earth?” he asked. “The seed bank has been flooded due to the effects of climate change. It is also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyberattacks. We need a place where we can keep our data safe. ” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.
One side of our natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly facing the Earth, which means that it would be possible to establish direct and constant communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.
Lonestar is currently closing its $5 million funding round from investors including Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it will need to prove that its technology is feasible and will start with small demonstrations on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with Intuitive Machines, a NASA-funded aerospace company.
As part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, in late 2022. Lonestar will run software-only test, storing a small bit of data about the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, the equivalent of two weeks on Earth.
The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s south pole carrying various pieces of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 ice drill and spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardcover novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. The IM-2 is expected to launch in 2023.
Robots and lava tubes
The small proof-of-concept data center will store immutable data for Lonestar’s first beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] perform load and download tests (think refreshing and restoring data) and also perform application edge processing tests. It will run on Ubuntu. The company is still determining bandwidth rates and has obtained permissions to transmit data to the Moon and to Earth in the S, X and Ka bands of the radio spectrum.
Whether Lonestar will test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers succeed in reaching the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; many attempts by the Soviets and the United States in the 1960s ended in failure. The last two failed attempts were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s national space agency crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers respectively.
The Moon’s strong gravitational pull and very thin atmosphere mean that the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface must be significantly slowed in a short time to land smoothly. Nailing down the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending out a robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts.
“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating and ordering customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive President and CEO Steve Altemus told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions is a critical step towards creating and defining the lunar economy by intuitive machines.”
The path from a book-sized prototype to full fledged cloud storage data centers, however, is a wavy one. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024 and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the data center will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home broadband Internet speeds – broadcast from a series of antennas.
If the company wants to continue to scale and store data long-term, it will need to find a way to protect its data centers from cosmic radiation and cope with fluctuations in the Moon’s surface temperatures, which can range from from 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.
Stott has an answer to this: nest data centers in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits carved beneath the Moon’s surface by the flow of ancient basalt lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be more stable and the servers will be better protected from harmful electromagnetic rays.
And how is the Lonestar going to get them there? “Robots…lots of robots,” Stott said. ®