Backup Data on the Moon?

Location, location, location. A California company intends to put servers and databases on the moon-seriously.

Locate backup data on the moon? Now that sounds like a rock-solid business model.

However strange the idea may sound, TransOrbital of La Jolla, California is taking it and other proposals for marrying high-tech and the Earths only natural satellite seriously. The company is getting ready to send a commercial mission to the moon and intends to send servers, data, handheld computers, and digital cameras along for the ride.

"Were the only company licensed to send a commercial mission right now," says Dennis Laurie, TransOrbital president and CEO. "Were shooting for the first quarter of 2004." On December 20 of 2002, the company launched a rocket to test telemetry, positioning, and other concerns in preparation for the upcoming mission. TransOrbital had to obtain approval from the US State Department and the military to gain its license, and has also been consulting with officials at NASA. The licensing process took two and a half years, according to Laurie, and involved getting a specific license to take pictures from space.

So is there any point in storing data on a server on the moon? TransOrbital has had companies that want to back up critical data somewhere other than on earth express interest, and is working on ways to make the idea attractive. "Were trying to develop some wider bandwidth laser communications going beyond the communication protocols developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that exist for use in space," Laurie says. "It is feasible to have electronic data on the moon, and to receive it from earth, although delays are implied."

In addition to putting servers on the moon, TransOrbital is seeking to use Hewlett-Packard iPaq handheld computers and digital cameras as part of its mission. "While orbiting the moon, were going to use the iPaq, with its wireless communication features, to communicate with downlink protocols we have," says Laurie. "We hope to tether digital cameras outside the satellite so that we can photograph it in conjunction with background shots of the earth and the moon. If everything works out, youll be able to go on the Web and see photographs from space."

Laurie is most excited about servers storing data on the moon, though. "The moon is a pretty safe place to store your data," he says. "September 11 caused people to think about what data backup really means, and there is also always the threat of a natural disaster here on earth, such as a small asteroid hitting the planet."

Laurie says his company is looking at self-healing server technology from various providers for use on the moon. Talk about remote backup.