Europe to Build Space Data Centers

data center, space, energy consumption, water consumption

A European study has concluded that functional data centers can be built in space.

  • This avant-garde location would directly address energy consumption issues.
  • It could also indirectly quench the centers’ water thirst.

A European study found that data centers could be built in space to solve their energy consumption issues, possibly also solving their water consumption problems.

Data centers, regardless of the space they occupy, consume a lot of energy and water to operate. According to the International Energy Agency, data centers require so much energy that they now account for over 1% of global energy consumption. The agency also expects the global data center electricity demand to exceed double what it was in 2022 by 2026, and the recent boom in AI plays a major role in these projections.

But energy is not the only thing that these data centers, that occupy various spaces, consume in abundance. They also need water, which is mainly used for cooling the system, to operate properly. It recently came out that OpenAI’s ChatGPT, for example, consumes the equivalent of a full bottle of water for every 20 to 50 questions users ask.

Answer Lays with the Stars

Europe has been looking to see where it can place data center spaces to keep up with demands. Hence, the Advanced Space Cloud for European Net zero emission and Data sovereignty project, also known as the ASCEND project. The European Commission launched this project in 2023 to study the feasibility of deploying data centers in space. Its goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of the infrastructure powering the AI boom, while also being economically viable

Project Manager, Damien Dumestier explained to CNBC that they were trying to benefit from “infinite energy.” Unlike on Earth, the sun does not set, which means that solar energy is available 24/7.

They concluded that it is technically, economically, and environmentally feasible. Dumestier disclosed that the ASCEND project aims to deploy 13 space data center building blocks, each having a surface area of 6,300 square meters. The total capacity would be 10 megawatts in 2036. This would be the starting point for cloud service commercialization.

Ultimately, they hope to deploy 1,300 building blocks by 2050, because only then will we see a significant impact on the sector’s energy consumption.

Curing Perpetual Thirst

Unlike the sun, which is a giant ball of burning gas that won’t die for at least another 5 billion years, water is a limited resource. Because of their affinity for water, companies build their data center spaces in locations where water is abundant. What ends up happening, however, is that these centers deplete the local water reserves, as large facilities use up millions of gallons of water daily.

In certain locations, groundwater pumping for data centers can cause saltwater from the ocean to seep into freshwater aquifers, contaminating them. In turn, this saline intrusion renders them unusable for human consumption or agriculture.

Building data centers in space, however, might significantly reduce their water consumption. Despite being much closer to the sun, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is cold due to the vacuum, which causes heat to dissipate. This would render a cooling system obsolete, and subsequently, allow data centers to give up water once in space.

Final Thoughts

As outlandish as their idea seems to be, like something out of a Richard Morgan book, building data centers in space would allow us to keep up with technological advancements without sacrificing our needs. For decades now, industries have grown at our expense, depleting and polluting natural resources. So, this initiative is a step in the right direction to stop sacrificing human comfort and needs for the next big thing.

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