Mars mission gets cloud computing boost

NASA is using cloud computing to optimize the efficiency of two rovers currently exploring the Martian landscape.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on the Red Planet in January 2004 for what were planned as three-month missions. 

However, extended missions have continued for more than six years. 

Opportunity is still quite operational, requiring daily activity plans by a team of engineers at JPL and other locations.

Meanwhile, Spirit has been silent since March 2010 and is believed to be in a low-power hibernation mode for the Martian winter.

“The rover project is well suited for cloud computing,” explained Khawaja Shams, a JPL software engineer supporting the project.

“It has a widespread user community acting collaboratively. The cloud enables us to deliver the data to each user from nearby locations for faster reaction time.”

According to Khawaja, the unexpected longevity of the mission means the volume of data used outgrew the systems originally planned for handling and sharing data, which made the virtually limitless capacity of cloud computing attractive.

As such, JPL collaborated with Amazon’s cloud team to plan and implement the use of cloud computing in the Mars Exploration Rover Project’s daily operations. 

“We have worked closely with multiple cloud vendors since 2007 to learn the best ways to gain the advantages of cloud computing,” said Tomas Soderstrom, chief technology officer for the JPL Office of the Chief Information Officer.

“To implement [the] vision of renting instead of buying capacity, we pragmatically look past the hype about cloud computing to find the practical, cost-efficient real mission applications. The Mars Exploration Rover project’s use of clouds is [just] one example of this results-oriented partnership. More will [certainly] follow.”