AWS And Axiom Are Showing The Future Of Commercial Space Exploration With AWS Snowcone

AWS Snowcone AWS

I had the privilege of attending AWS’s re:Mars in Las Vegas this past week. Amazon re:Mars is Amazon’s event for showcasing amazing work within the categories of machine learning, AI, robotics, and space. 

You can read my pre-coverage of Amazon re:Mars where I sit down with AWS’s Rachel Thornton, CMO, and Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Database Analytics and Machine Learning, here or you can watch the interview here on the Moor Insights & Strategy Insider podcast episode here. I now want to dive into how AWS and Axiom are working together to operate an edge compute and storage AWS Snowcone on the International Space Station.

Space as the final frontier

The next one hundred years of space exploration are not going to be like the past 75 years of space exploration. Politics and the government have largely driven the past half-century of space efforts. The motivation to get to the moon was primarily to beat the Russians and was done by NASA. If we look at today’s space efforts, much of it is driven by the potential of space from an economic and opportunistic standpoint. I believe this is a great perspective. Since man first went to the moon, space exploration from the government side of things has dwindled and has been dwarfed by efforts from the private sector. 

The transition of space exploration from the government sector (NASA) to the private sector reminds me a lot of today’s mailing system (USPS). The United States Postal Service was born out of a necessity to quickly get information around the thirteen colonies, including revolutionary talk that was to be kept from the British. It was called the Committees of Correspondence, then the Constitutional Post, and finally, after the creation of the United States, the USPS. Throughout the years, although the USPS is still in use today, companies like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon have perfected the art of delivering mail and packages across all 50 states and the world. As I digress back to space, the same commercial drive and potential that allowed Amazon to excel with delivering parcels is driving Amazon and other space exploration companies. Compared to sending packages, space, the final frontier, is a whole other animal.

The challenges of space commerce

Space research is one of the primary motivations for companies like Amazon to get to space. Like any solution, research must come before the development of a solution to whatever challenge needs to be solved. Amazon is addressing data latency and bandwidth issues from researchers in space to computers on the ground. Amazon is working with companies like Axiom aboard Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) to address this problem using AWS Snowcone. 

Axiom completed the first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS, which was a pivotal step towards Axiom’s endeavor to build out the first private space station, the Axiom Station. Axiom says that an integral part of the Ax-1 mission was scientific research and it has done 25 research investigations and technology demonstrations with Axiom private astronauts, including a demonstration with AWS Snowcone.

AWS introduced Snowcone a couple of years ago as an addition to AWS’ Snow Family. You can read my coverage of the AWS Snowcone announcement here. It essentially allows for edge computing and data transfer in disconnected environments. It is a tiny little device, small enough to fit inside the average backpack and light enough to board a space mission without an afterthought. If anything, its presence on the ISS is the perfect application to showcase the capabilities of such a small and ruggedized device. The AWS Snowcone provided compute, storage, and networking capabilities on board the ISS and away from any ground facilities, allowing researchers to do their work without the need to transfer data to the ground.

The AWS Snowcone installed onboard the ISS. AWS

When it comes to tackling “the final frontier”, devices like the AWS Snowcone define the bleeding edge of technology within the realm of space. The AWS Snowcone underwent rigorous testing by NASA, including a safety review process, thermal analysis, and rocket simulation testing. 

Like the cloud, space is full of data too

I was given the privilege of sitting down with Clint Crozier, director of Aerospace and Satellite at AWS, and he put into perspective how critical it is and will be to manage and move data from space. You can watch the full interview with Clint Crosier here on a special edition of the Six Five On The Road.

Crozier explained how we live in an environment where there will be a 10x increase in data coming from space in the next half-decade. As I have expressed before, data is the digital gold of the future, and we are on the road to making more data, not less. When I think of how data in space is already being obtained, I think of Planet Labs which is taking data from images of the earth and analyzing that data across multiple industries. 

The cloud is already good at turning data into digital gold. This need to manage and collect data is the exact problem that the space community is already facing. Incredibly, the cloud is a pivotal solution for our space challenges.

From left to right: Daniel Newman, Clint Crozier, and Patrick Moorhead Patrick Moorhead

I believe AWS is looking ahead and working with many space exploration companies to lay the groundwork for future space commerce. The amount of applications and commerce that could be done in space leaves a lot of potential on the table. Imagine a future where wildfire management is done in space, and a wildfire could be detected because satellite imagery catches it within minutes. Imagine a future where a percentage of crops grown worldwide is grown in orbit, saving space on the ground. Imagine a silicon fab in space. Keep in mind also that the environmental differences in space, like low gravity, make some research and experiments easier to execute. There is so much untapped potential in space, and companies like AWS are using the cloud and devices like the AWS Snowcone to make space exploration a reality.

Wrapping up

While the demonstration of AWS Snowcone on the ISS does not seem like a large step for space commerce, it is a meaningful one for tackling the difficulties of data transfer in space. The collaboration between AWS and Axiom is the first of many leaps and bounds that we should see in the next couple of decades as space commerce and exploration become possible. Space exploration and commerce are possible thanks to the advancement of data centers, the cloud, AI and machine learning, robots, and dedicated capitalist economies.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.