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From The Moon To The Cloud

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is an early step in NASA's long trip back to placing humans on the moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral on June 18th, the LRO's mission is to take high-resolution images of the moon's surface so scientists and engineers can plan the best landing spots for future robotic missions, and ultimately the best locations for man's return to the lunar surface.

With data coming from the LRO in large quantities and "do-overs" difficult and expensive to program into the satellite, data protection is a critical issue for both NASA and the project's principal investigators at Arizona State University. In order to arrange for real-time data backup of all images, ASU researchers decided to look to the cloud and contract with Nirvanix for flexible cloud-based storage.

According to Jeff Tudor, founder and senior vice president of business development at Nirvanix, the researchers wanted off-site redundant backup of all data in case of a massive disaster at the university: "The images are shot from orbit around the moon, downloaded to NASA at the main data center, and written to disks there. Then they're transferred to the research center at ASU and mirrored over the Internet to one of our cloud facilities."

Because of the resolution of the images and the size of the moon's surface, multiple terabytes of data are generated each day, and Tudor says that they anticipate that the data set will continue to grow for some time into the future. "The LRO is scheduled for a one-year mission, but based on the performance of some recent NASA projects we're anticipating a lifetime of several years," he explains.

Tudor says that the cloud architecture of the backup means that researchers could continue working to analyze the data, even in a worst-case scenario. "If there's a fire or some other disaster at ASU you can take the CloudNAS software to, say, the Applied Physics Lab in Greenbelt, MD. A simple 6 megabyte download of software gets them started, they provide the same credentials used in the lab at ASU, and there's instant access to the hundreds of terabytes of data stored in our facility," Tudor says.

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