Colossus, formerly known as Zephyr Computing Systems, gained space heritage for its Kestrel radiation-tolerant processor as part of Loft Orbital's YAM-6 spacecraft. Credit: Loft Orbital

SAN FRANCISCO – Space computing startup Colossus has gained flight heritage for Kestrel, a processor built to operate in orbit.

Oakland, California-based Colossus, formerly called Zephyr Computing Systems, sent GPUs into low-Earth orbit in March on Loft Orbital’s YAM-6 mission. YAM-6 flew on the SpaceX Transporter-10 rideshare flight.

“Everything is going well,” Jason Cerundolo, Colossus co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “It’s ready for developers to start using it and satellite integrators to build it into their systems.”

Loft Orbital satellites often serve as platforms for hardware and software technology demonstrations. For Colossus, though, Loft is a revenue-generating customer. Kestrel will serve as a compute resource for Loft’s virtual missions.

“Loft’s Virtual Mission service allows customers to access in-space data, and Colossus’s onboard processor technology helps enable this new paradigm for our customers,” Keith Becker, Loft Flight Products director of embedded systems, said in a statement.

AI in Space

Expanding satellite constellations, improved sensors and communications constraints are prompting satellite operators to bolster onboard processing. Artificial-intelligence and machine-learning algorithms running on spacecraft can pre-process data to reduce the amount operators must send to the ground.   

“There’s so much data being generated now it’s hard to get it all down to the ground,” Cerundolo said. “We don’t necessarily need the data, but we need either the data products or the insights from that data. That’s where our GPU solution comes in.”

In addition, AI promises to make satellite operations more autonomous.

“Nobody’s ever said, ‘We don’t need any more computing power,’” Cerundolo said. “There will always be a demand for increased computational power at all levels, and especially on the edge.”

In-Orbit Edge

To date, space-related AI applications have been largely confined to the ground. Many commercial AI-optimized chips and circuit boards are not designed to withstand the thermal extremes and radiation levels spacecraft experience.

As a result, some companies focus on shielding commercial AI components. Others are developing custom hardware and software for space-related applications.

Colossus relies on commercial AI technology. With a combination of shielding, hardware protection circuitry, as well as custom firmware and resilient software, Colossus technology is designed to detect and correct errors caused by radiation.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...