Tucson, Arizona-based Vector Space Systems recently tweeted its GalacticSky software-defined satellites are “powered” by Citrix XenServer and went so far as to post a picture taken at Citrix’s Santa Clara campus. It’s an interesting bit of information, since it means Vector plans to have industry-standard style server virtualization in the sky. The company already has one announced customer for GalacticSky software hosting.
GalacticSky is taking the concept of “software-defined” and moving it from the traditional data center and network onto a mobile, self-powered platform. Readers in the data center and telecommunications industry are no doubt familiar with containers, software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) to perform tasks once assigned to dedicated hardware. The old school satellite industry has made its business on purpose-defined hardware for decades and has only recently started to adopt more flexibility in being able to reconfigure functions and tasks via software.
“New Space” start-ups, such as Vector, have less to lose in terms of existing customers and legacy hardware platforms. Using software to rapidly add and reconfigure satellite functions is a big win, with software-defined radios being the biggest area where both existing and start-up companies are working.
GalacticSky is a full satellite virtualization platform including satellite design tools, container management, cloud-based space simulation services, a “full suite” of SDKs and APIs for quick development and a purpose-built Linux implementation to execute customer workloads. So, like its data center-based counterpart, developers and businesses can quickly build apps, test them in the cloud, and once ready, send them up to the sky, either hosted on an existing GalacticSky satellite owned by Vector or on a purpose-built satellites from Vector.
Potential applications/features Vector lists for GalacticSky include tailored imagery, onboard analysis, secure data storage and transfer, and high-speed communications. In December 2017, Vector announced it would host the Nexus cryptocurrency, NSX, on Galactic Sky. Being able to distribute its blockchain across multiple satellites will provide enhanced reliability and performance, according to a joint Vector and Nexus press release, along with a distributed infrastructure able to reach places where there isn’t traditional broadband infrastructure. Vector gets a demonstration customer for software-defined satellite (or sky hosting, as I like to think of it), so other businesses can start to think about how they can use the system.
Software-defined satellites means Vector isn’t locked into one customer while virtualization allows Vector to host multiple customers across multiple satellites. Vector hasn’t specified what types of hardware and sensors might be onboard a typical GalacticSky platform, but one can imply imaging sensors, plenty of storage, and processing capability as a part of a family of satellites.