From space to 'the cloud'

NASA launches 1st mission that will secure its data in cloud storage

NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich broke new ground as the first NASA mission to archive a climate-monitoring satellite’s data into the “cloud” instead of a ground storage system. With its data in the cloud, Sentinel-6 makes the insights it collects more accessible and available for scientists and soon, the public at-large.

While the data is also more accessible, this approach solves a growing problem for NASA: where to store its ever-expanding data repository.

“NASA is required to keep all data in perpetuity,” said David Appel, vice president of Defense & Civil Solutions at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “The data storage challenge becomes that much greater with the petabytes upon petabytes of data that satellites generate every day.”

Reliance on physical, on-premises data centers is costly to operate and requires a massive footprint. The new cloud approach will become NASA’s model for secure data management going forward, a key technology enabler to meet the data management needs of NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information Systems, or ESDIS, mission.

RI&S has spent the past several years working alongside NASA on a secure cloud-based platform known as Earthdata Cloud as part of NASA’s ESDIS project. Its goal is to create a method of data distribution and archival that is cost-effective and efficient.

RI&S also worked alongside NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center Operation, or PO.DAAC, to send Sentinel-6’s data to the Earthdata Cloud via the Cumulus application, the system that receives, distributes, manages and archives the data received from space.

The RI&S team provided communication channels for launch operations and around-the-clock mission support. This included monitoring instruments as they came online and ensuring the data received was what the team anticipated and could flow freely to the cloud.

“This is a new era in how we help our customers archive, distribute and analyze critical science data,” said Peter Plofchan, RI&S program manager for NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System Evolution and Development program. “But it’s only one of many milestones to come. Now, the team will work to bring in the other missions under NASA’s ESDIS program.”

NASA plans to make all of the Sentinel-6 satellite data available to the public through cloud-based Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, by September 2021, after scientists have tested and cleared it. This will be the basis of the model for public sharing of climate data.

“What makes big transitions like Sentinel-6 moving to the cloud possible is our implementation of the Scaled Agile Framework,” said Dana Shum, RI&S mission engineer for NASA’s EOSDIS Evolution and Development program.

The Scaled Agile Framework is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices.

“This framework and attitude of collaboration and transparency across organizations is geared toward getting the right people working together at the right levels to have the right technical conversations,” Shum said.