In this article

  • As technology continues to bring us closer to extending the limits of space exploration, questions about where astronauts will live and the cities they’ll build warrant serious discussion
  • There are a number of challenges which will affect building cities in space — food, entertainment, work — but technology is helping provide solutions
Labs Chief Architect Kirk Bresniker and VP/GM of Servers, Converged Edge, & IoT Systems Tom Bradicich discuss the future of space travel

For years, we’ve looked to space as the next frontier. One that is expansive, ever changing and unbounded. But what if we had the opportunity look at space exploration differently? As a blank slate, rather than a next step. Would we see its potential in a new light? What lessons would we take from Earth? What would we keep? What would we discard?

At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a research team is looking to space’s most “Extreme Edge” to design and identify ways to take the best of what we have learned over years of technological progress on Earth and create something completely new. A perfect, unencumbered and intelligent ecosystem.

We caught up with HPE’s Kirk Bresniker, chief architect, Hewlett Packard Labs and Dr. Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager, Servers, Converged Edge and IoT Systems to hear more about their vision for life in deep space.

Q. Space travel has always been a hot topic but it seems that this year there is even more discussion around it - why now?

Bresniker: What’s so exciting about space right now is we’re on the cusp of having experiences in space become commercially sustainable. Rather than what has been traditionally led by large government institutions, space travel becomes ubiquitous; it becomes another tool we have to create economic opportunity.

Bradicich: With private sector engagement, we see the opportunity for the public to get involved in space exploration. Now, you don’t have to be an astronaut or scientist. You can be an average citizen and take this kind of trip. That sends a buzz through the population.

Q. So, we’re going to space. Where do we live? What is the central challenge to building a city in space?

Bradicich: The biggest challenge is getting people to live in it. How do we enable life in space? We will need to find ways in which we can replicate and export all aspects and qualities of life that a particular citizen is accustomed to here on Earth, so they can live that way in an extraterrestrial city. That includes presenting a diverse range of opportunities and choices with respect to food, entertainment and work.

Q. How can technology help overcome this challenge?

Bresniker: Through the Extreme Edge research initiative, we’ll be looking into new ways of understanding how we equip crews in space—or one day space tourists—on long-duration missions to be self-sufficient (no longer relying on infrastructures on Earth). But, so much of the challenge for technology operating outside of Earth’s atmosphere is about constraints of space, weight and power availability.

The kinds of computational capabilities we have here on Earth — like that which power data centers — are dependent upon abundant energy, something you might not necessarily have. You can’t bring that kind of power with you. A small rocket ship towing a large data center behind it is probably not going to make it to Mars.

We have to make technology small enough, light enough and efficient enough that they can use scarce resources available in space and provide these crews the kinds of answers they need in a timeframe that matters. So, we’re using this challenge as an opportunity to look at technology differently and designing solutions for the most extreme environments imaginable that solve some really critical challenges that affect technology on Earth today.

Bradicich: What’s more, we’re on the cusp of major advancements in autonomy and artificial intelligence, particularly when applied to edge computational systems. These are the types of applications that could enable that level of self-sufficiency on the spacecraft.

Q. What will cities look like on Mars?

Bradicich: There will be a significant amount of climate control and HVAC technology to replicate the familiar climate and physical environment that is on Earth. We can envision domes around parts of the city. We can envision tunnels that are air temperature- and gravity-controlled and shielded correctly for this hostile environment. We would have low populations in the cities, because of these challenges. There would be a lot of turnover in population. It will be transient.

Bresniker: One thing we can assume is that they will be enclosed. Whether they are inside natural caverns that we can cap off or domed, they will be self-sufficient and self-reliant. They are creating their energy locally on the planet. They aren’t importing a lot of things, they have to make do with what they can bring. Its manufacturing, its environment, and productivity all enclosed within that system.

Q. Why does HPE care about space travel?

Bradicich: We care about space travel because it will require advances in our core competencies, such as computing, connectivity, and control. We have a proven, battle-hardened legacy in these technologies, and we can work from the core, to the cloud, to the edge. Right now we work with the edges of earth but the next natural step is to go to the extreme edge, the space edge, the extraterrestrial edge. With new technologies, we have to couple our proven understanding, and our battle-hardened products and services, with innovation.

Learn more about how HPE vision is helping create the next giant leap for space travel here.