Clouds in Space

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


Within the last two decades, space-based technology has become a ubiquitous component of everyday life. For example, British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) produces subscription television services for over 12 million direct and indirect customers in the UK and Ireland, and 40 million people daily use the Dutch TomTom company's solutions which provide in-car navigation systems and tracking systems for fleet management. Emergency services rely extensively on satellite technology.In this research we will investigate the applicability of Cloud Computing and data handling for the important international problem of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Debris removal and mitigation. This is an important theme area within the European Space Agency, which protects Europe's citizens and satellite services by detecting space hazards. One of the key goals recently set by Obama was to Strengthen stability in space through: ...; improved information collection and sharing for space object collision avoidance; protection of critical space systems and supporting infrastructures, with special attention to the critical interdependence of space and information systems; and strengthening measures to mitigate orbital debris. (June 2010). A highlighted area of interest was to Develop, maintain, and use space situational awareness (SSA) information from commercial, civil, and national security sources to detect, identify, and attribute actions in space that are contrary to responsible use and the long-term sustainability of the space environment. On Feb 10th the US Iridium-33 and the Russian Cosmos 2251 collided, resulting in debris which could place at risk many other active satellites in this low-earth orbit position. Results of a simulation of this event can be seen at [checked Oct 20th 2010]Currently we track around 20,000 objects larger than ~10cm in satellite orbits. In the future, with higher fidelity systems, we will be tracking 500,000+ objects of size 1cm+. This poses significant challenges to be able to scale up the compute resources and complex algorithms required to process the data which arrives twice-daily. We propose to investigate how Cloud computing can be used to tackle these challenges. Cloud computing is internet based computing which allows resources, software, data and services to be provided on demand. Many individuals and businesses use Cloud based services for email, web searching, photo sharing and social networking. Scientists and Engineers are using a similar paradigm to make use of massive amounts of compute and data handling resources provided by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.Specifically we will investigate the efficacy of the Cloud to develop and test algorithms to target debris for removal and understand the efficiency of the new algorithm - this is important to enable us to perform the modelling required as we track more objects. This is based on the Travelling Purchaser Problem, a variant of the widely used/solved Traveling Salesman Problem. We will investigate whether the Cloud can provide a scalable, reliable and robust infrastructure for the ongoing requirement to aggregate and process ever-increasing volumes of data to propagate orbits, detect events, and plan missions. Such mission planning is an important aspect of launching new satellites and removing existing debris from orbit. We have already built a prototype using Microsoft's Azure Cloud platform and this research will enable us to increase the efficiency of the calculations and improve their scalability. Understanding how the Cloud can be used in this area of science and engineering will also help shape how Cloud providers, such as Microsoft, will provision services in the future which can be used to perform research in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, environmental management, bioinformatics and energy production, which are important challenges for society as a whole.

Planned Impact

We will report findings to the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and with the agreement of the UK Space Agency, our conclusions on SSA, as well as the role of Azure and Cloud Computing, will be disseminated to the world's major space agencies, including those represented by our partners. We will introduce and discuss our work at the April 2011 meeting of the IADC and establish specific routes for feedback before following up via the IADC Steering Group meeting in October 2011. This route may then go on to inform the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS). The results of this proposal will lead to publication of scholarly articles in relevant conferences, journals and book chapters and at specialist workshops in the field of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Cloud computing, such as Supercomputing, Future Generation Systems Journal, IEEE Journals, Acta Astronautica, UK eScience, and Microsoft's Faculty Summit/ Workshops. We will engage directly with companies involved in providing Cloud Computing services to companies. These include Microsoft through Cox's membership of the Microsoft Technical Computing Executive Advisory Council (TCEAC), whose members include industries as diverse as bio-pharma, engineering/ manufacturing, finance and energy and UK based companies such as dezineforce (where Cox is Chief Scientist). Within the SSA domain, we will engage with national space agencies, including the UK Space Agency, ESA and NASA, through Lewis' membership of the IADC. At this level, there are opportunities to coordinate international efforts and to influence debris remediation guidelines. In addition, existing collaborations with EADS Astrium and QinetiQ will provide potential for engagement with UK based satellite manufacturers with awareness of debris remediation issues. The University of Southampton currently holds a Knowledge Technology Secondment grant with dezineforce which is funded through Oct 2011. dezineforce is a University of Southampton spin-out which is delivering systems and software to enable engineering companies to scale complex calculations from workstation clients, through local clusters, and onto Clouds. It is one of only a handful of companies selected by Microsoft for its elite BizSpark One programme. The knowledge gained in this proposal will have direct impact on the secondment and UK competitiveness. Its customers are engineering companies and its partners are 3rd party engineering software providers covering areas such as civil and environmental engineering, aerospace and electromagnetic modelling - many of whom are looking to develop their cloud strategies over the coming months. By close partnership with dezineforce, Microsoft and their associated channel and partners we will show the applicability of cloud computing to their customers and partner base. Through Microsoft's TCEAC our conclusions on Azure and Cloud Computing will be fed back directly to Microsoft to identify where it can be improved - it will focus on HPC and Cloud over the coming year. Our work will also have be reported as part of Microsoft's regular International workshops/ summits and this will further enable the results of our proposal to have National and International impact, which is particularly important given the global nature of the challenges of SSA. Along with the companies, channels and partners above, the Southampton houses a number of long term strategic initiatives with Aerospace companies, such as Airbus (where we host the University Noise Technology Centre and have directly funded EngD students), BAE Systems, and Rolls-Royce (University Technology Centre for Computational Engineering). The results of our work will be disseminated to these companies, who are major UK employers and a number of key contributions to the tools, technologies and platforms they use today in their engineering processes arose from research at Southampton led by Cox and Takeda.


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Description Delivered and developed cloud based system using Microsoft Azure to show how space situational awareness studies could be conducted in the future.

Understanding what computational tools, technologies and platforms can support and enable new questions to be asked and answered in this field is important to ensure that we continue to ensure that space can continue to be used for communications, earth systems monitoring and scientific endeavours.

We have demonstrated how the 'Cloud Computing' paradigm can be exploited for this.
Exploitation Route Cloud computing has become ubiquitous in the consumer space for photos, document, music and social network sharing. Using it for complex scientific and engineering challenges tests how it can be extended and enhanced for future complex consumer and business applications and challenges. We continue to work with national and International space agencies on the scientific uses of our project.

We also continue to work with technology suppliers such as Microsoft on the application and enhancement of Cloud Computing systems such as Azure.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description This has led to further uptake of Cloud in Engineering and Science and also demonstration to SMEs and large companies where Cloud computing and data handling can offer advantages over "in house" solutions. The key advantages are agility, cost and flexibility. These must be tensioned against security and careful evaluation of benefits if the need for computing power is constant.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services