Big Data and its impact in the space sector, one bit at a time

Why is big data important for space exploration?

Images courtesy NASA/JPL, Taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Big data analysis influences space exploration by enabling us to better understand space data, and unlock the mysteries of the universe.

As a matter of fact, many analysis tools brought a new perspective in the space sector. These tools offer fast analysis and visualization of data, and have proven to be very valuable. They help space probes make faster and better decisions, reduce failure, and improve life on planet Earth.

Today, I will highlight some of them.

☑️ Reduces malfunction and failure

Images courtesy NASA/JPL, Self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover showing the vehicle on Vera Rubin Ridge.

Space agencies are using big data tools to rapidly analyze their data and make time-efficient decisions. One of the many systems that offers fast, real-time data analysis is Elasticsearch, which now has more than 100 million downloads and it is becoming a leading system in the industry.

NASA JPL is using two applications from this system, one to organize internal employee coordination, and another to plan NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover activities, in real time. The first application powers JPL’s internal search engine, with a powerful video and people search. The application for the Curiosity rover uses production data and creates an easy way for engineers to monitor instruments and measurements faster and more efficiently.

And what is the most important question for Mars exploration?

☑️ To identify whether there is life or not

With systems like Elasticsearch, this question might be answered quickly.

This tool permits handling large amounts of data from Curiosity’s sensors, such as the temperature on the Martian surface, precise information on the rover’s equipment, tools and actions, and atmospheric composition.

And speaking of atmospheric composition…

In June, we all witnessed big news from NASA — the Curiosity rover has identified a variety of organic molecules and methane in Mars’ air.

In 2020, the ExoMars mission will deploy a Mars rover with life-detecting equipment. Large volumes of data should be fast and correctly processed, for which technologies like Elasticsearch would be a precious asset.


☑️ Greater rate of scientific discoveries

An artist drawing of how the SKA project will look like with many antennas in Australia.

Data correlation and fast data processing can provide mission-critical insights that can lead to a greater rate of scientific discovery.

For example, The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with a surface of over one million square meters. Many of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers, from around 100 organizations, participate in the design and development of the SKA.

The SKA will use thousands of dishes and one million antennas to permit monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail. It’s expected to survey the entire sky much faster and with greater detail than any system in existence today.

The SKA project is the very definition of big data. The project team predicts that it will generate up to 700 terabytes of data per second. That is almost the same amount of data transmitted through the internet every two days.

Comparison of Data per second from SKA and on the net.

That is literally an astronomical amount of data, which presents some unique challenges for both astronomers and data scientists, mostly related to storing and processing Big Data.

Data transmission in space is still a challenge and finding a way to ease that process would be beneficial for many space missions.


☑️ Improving life on Earth

Image courtesy Planet company, Seward, Alaska | RapidEye | 5 m/px | RGB, NIR, red edge bands.

Right now, satellites are crunching 2 billion instructions per second and delivering data that could help us prevent natural disasters and use natural resources wisely.

Fortunately, some entrepreneurs are starting to get interested and explore the data to find ways to make them beneficial for our planet Earth.

For example, The Climate Corporation uses their satellite data to enable farmers all around the globe to find more sustainable ways to grow substantially more food. Scientists are predicting that the world population will grow up to 50 percent by 2100, so this project can deliver benefits to humanity in the long term.

Planet is another company that is using satellite data, with a mission to image the entire Earth every day and make global change visible and actionable. The company, which designs and builds itsown satellites, has produced a 7+ petabyte image archive so far, and plans to scale rapidly.

Initiatives like these point to big data driven economies, and options to make better decisions and improve operational efficiency in sectors including agriculture, forestry, mapping, shipping, or energy.

But how do we make all this data accessible and valuable for everyone?

By making it open.
Images courtesy NASA/JPL, Taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

This is still a tough challenge. We should have better environmental satellite data sharing policies and make practical recommendations for increasing global data sharing. The Open Space study presents a very detailed example, proving that sharing satellite data is a key to enabling effective short and long-term global management of Planet Earth.

An encouraging sign is that public agencies are increasingly committing to open data policies.

Open.NASA, for example, is an open innovation program in NASA’s Innovation Division, which creates many open data programs for both space professionals and enthusiasts. The NASA Space Apps Challenge Hackathon, NASA Datanauts, and the Data Bootcamp are projects which provide opportunities for citizens to easily get access and innovate with NASA’s open data, code, and APIs.

These examples show the importance of understanding and openly distributing Big Data. Open Big Data could boost innovation and global cooperation, getting us closer to achieving a better tomorrow for everyone.


If you like what you read, share some claps with me. 👏👏👏


This is a blog post by Space Decentral, a decentralized autonomous space agency that leverages blockchain technology to reinvigorate the push for space exploration with global citizens in control. Space Decentral promotes collaborative design of space missions, sharing research for peer review, crowdsourcing science, and crowdfunding worthy projects that accelerate human progress.