Amazon.com is working closely with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to provide cloud computing services for the space agency's The Mars Exploration Rover project, NASA announced today. Although the release claims that this project is the first NASA space mission to use cloud computing for daily mission operations," NASA has used Amazon competitor Rackspace for its Nebula project. A paper called "A Scalable Image Processing Framework for Gigapixel Mars and Other Celestial Body Images" (PDF) goes into more detail on how JPL is using Amazon.com's Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2).
According to the paper:
We are using the Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing service as well as our own machines (at NASA JPL) to distribute the tiling and processing of images. This adds even more flexibility and scalability. The Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing is a web service that provides resizable computing capacity in the cloud. The cloud is elastic in that it can scale itself up and down in seconds depending on theneeded resources of the Scalable Image ProcessingFramework. This provides a substantial increase in both speed and efficiency. A goal of ours is to eventually be able to process all MER (Mars Exploration Rover) images withina few hours. Implementing our image processing framework on the cloud is only natural as it is intrinsically scalable by the way of tiles where the tiles of a specific operation can be computed independently from one another.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars in January of 2004 and were intended to stay only three months. Extended missions have kept the rovers there over six years. According to the press release: "The unexpected longevity of the mission means the volume of data used has outgrown the systems originally planned for handling and sharing data, which makes the virtually limitless capacity of cloud computing attractive."
The fact that Amazon.com technology is powering NASA projects must be pleasing to Amazon.com CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who also founded a private space travel company called Blue Origin.