Zurich/Paris - A European consortium headed up by Thales Alenia Space has determined in a feasibility study that data centers in space could use fewer resources than those located on Earth. The study was financed by the EU program Horizon Europe.

Thales Alenia Space has shown that data centers in space could be operated on a more sustainable basis than those located on Earth as part of the ASCEND study, which is being carried out with other partners and was first launched in 2023. ASCEND is designed to help achieve the goal of being CO2-free by 2050 under the EU Green Deal. The study was carried out by a European consortium as part of the EU’s Horizon Europe research program and coordinated by Thales Alenia Space, a Cannes-based joint venture between the two defense and aerospace companies Thales (based in Paris; 67 percent) and Leonardo (based in Rome; 33 percent). Thales Alenia Space Switzerland has been operating out of Zurich since 2016.

ASCEND © Thales Alenia SpaceMaster Image Programmes
ASCEND © Thales Alenia SpaceMaster Image Programmes

As detailed in a press release, in order to significantly reduce the CO2 emissions generated in connection with the processing and storage of digital data, the project partners needed to develop a powerful, environmentally friendly and reusable launch vehicle that would produce ten times fewer emissions over its entire life cycle. The viability of a carrier rocket of this kind was validated thanks to the ArianeGroup, a partner in the study, and the PROTEIN feasibility study carried out by the European Space Agency.

Modular space infrastructures are to be assembled in orbit with the help of robot technologies developed as part of the European Commission’s EROSS IOD (European Robotic Orbital Support Services In Orbit Demonstrator) project led by Thales Alenia Space. Its first mission is planned for 2026. According to Thales Alena Space, this would allow Europe “to reclaim its leadership role in the areas of transport, space logistics and the construction of large infrastructures in orbit”.

As Thales Alena Space explains further, the ASCEND project could also contribute to the digital sovereignty of Europe by reducing its digital footprint and at the same time guaranteeing data security for citizens and companies. It is estimated that the data center market will have a capacity of 23 gigawatts by 2030, with ASCEND aiming to provide around 1 gigawatt by 2050. The results of the study also confirm the economic viability of the project, which, as the press release states, promises a return on investment amounting to several billion euros by 2050. ce/mm

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