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LyteLoop raises $40 million to launch satellites that use light to store data

Darrell Etherington
·4-min read

Soon, your cloud photo backups could reside on beams of light transmitted between satellites instead of in huge, power-hungry server farms here on Earth. Startup LyteLoop has spent the past five years tackling the physics challenges that can make that possible, and now it's raised $40 million to help it leapfrog the remaining engineering hurdles to make its bold vision a reality.

LyteLoop's new funding will provide it with enough runway to achieve its next major milestone: putting into orbit within the next three years three prototype satellites equipped with its novel data storage technology. The company intends to build and launch six of these, which will demonstrate how its laser-based storage medium operates on orbit.

I spoke to LyteLoop CEO Ohad Harlev about the company's progress, technology and plans. Harlev said five years into its founding, the company is very confident in the science that underlies its data storage methods -- and thrilled about the advantages it could offer over traditional data warehousing technology used today. Security, for instance, gets a big boost from LyteLoop's storage paradigm.

"Everybody on every single data center has the same same possible maximum level of data security," he said. "We can provide an extra four layers of cybersecurity, and they're all physics-based. Anything that can be applied on Earth, we can apply in our data center, but for example, the fact that we're storing data on photons, we could put in quantum encryption, which others can't. Plus, there are big security benefits because the data is in motion, in space, and moving at the speed of light."

On top of security, LyteLoop's model also offers benefits when it comes to privacy, because the data it's storing is technically always in transit between satellites, which means it'll be subject to an entirely different set of regulations versus those that come into play when you're talking about data which is warehoused on drives in storage facilities. LyteLoop also claims advantages in terms of access, because the storage and the network are one in the same, with the satellites able to provide their information to ground stations anywhere on Earth. Finally, Harlev points out that it's incredibly power efficient, and also ecologically sound in terms of not requiring million of gallons of water for cooling, both significant downsides of our current data center storage practices.

On top of all of that, Harlev says that LyteLoop's storage will not only be cost-competitive with current cloud-based storage solutions, but will in fact be more affordable -- even without factoring in likely decreases to come in launch costs as SpaceX iterates on its own technology and more small satellite launch providers, including Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, come online and expand their capacity.

"Although it's more expensive to build and launch the satellite, it is still a lot cheaper to maintain them in the space," he said. "So when we do a total cost of ownership calculation, we are cheaper, considerably cheaper, on a total cost of ownership basis. However [...] when we compare what the actual users can do, you know, we can definitely go to completely different pricing model."

Harlev is referring to the possibility of bundled pricing for combining storage and delivery -- other providers would require that you supply the network, for instance, in order to move the data you're storing. LyteLoop's technology could also offset existing spend on reducing a company's carbon footprint, because of its much-reduced ecological impact.

The company is focused squarely on getting its satellites to market, with a plan to take its proof of concept and expand that to a full production satellite roughly five years form now, with an initial service offering made available at that time. But LyteLoop's tech could have equally exciting applications here on Earth. Harlev says that if you created a LyteLoop data center roughly the size of a football field, it would be roughly 500 times as efficient at storing data versus traditional data warehousing.

The startup's technology, which essentially stores data on photons instead of physical media, just requires far less matter than do our current ways of doing things, which not only helps its environmental impact, but which also makes it a much more sensible course for in-space storage when compared to physical media. The launch business is all about optimizing mass to orbit in order to reduce costs, and, as Harlev notes, photons are massless.