Imagine a future in which all things launched into space – from the tiniest nano-satellites to hulking multi-modular planet probes – could communicate with one other.

One in which mankind could harness the collaborative potential of thousands of orbiting vehicles, computers, complex measuring devices and other equipment currently barreling through our solar system on their own respective missions.

They would need to hook up to a common network, a space internet - cloud computing above the clouds - to receive new tasks on completion of the original one, or to perform additional functions in parallel.

A European Space Agency image showing satellite density around the Earth, including debris. Photo: ESA

As it happens, that very concept has just earned a Skoltech scientist the Luigi G. Napolitano Award for space research.

Alessandro Golkar, 29, an Italian assistant professor, authored a paper at Skoltech titled “Design margin utilization in commercial satellite cloud computing systems.”

If implemented, the system could give new life to half-spent equipment, it could squeeze extra utility out of the sea of cosmic machinery already out there, and ultimately it could foster new international collaboration between the world’s space programs, opening up entirely new avenues of investigation.

Perhaps crucially, it could also render additional space launches unnecessary, saving millions of dollars.

Golkar’s paper was lauded by the International Astronautical Federation during its congress in Toronto over the weekend as “presenting a fundamentally new and potentially highly useful approach to the operations of space systems in the future.”

He dedicated the award to his team of students from Russia, Spain, Italy and Armenia. 

Alessandro Golkar

“I am glad to have brought this award for the first time to a Russian institution. And I am glad this goes to Skoltech, which is an international institution, and quite a great place to be working now. I feel very lucky and grateful for the opportunity,” Golkar told in emailed comments.

“I am happy to raise awareness of my research on federated satellite systems, which is crucial at this point to start influencing decision makers in the space industry,” he added.

Speaking about the significance of his work, Golkar said: “I am trying to conduct research that has short term commercial potential. But it also signifies a fundamental paradigm shift in space systems design. It really does,” he said.

 “We propose to develop federations for collaboration between different companies and countries. Individual space missions could share resources. The result will be a network similar to the Internet, but in space. It is really a cloud computing implementation for space systems. I believe this research will benefit satellite operators and space agencies willing to listen, in many, many ways.”

The Luigi G. Napolitano Award has been presented annually since 1993, to a young scientist, below 30 years of age, who has contributed significantly to the advancement of the aerospace science and has given a paper at the International Astronautical Congress on the contribution.

The International Astronautical Federation, based in France and founded in 1951, says its mandate is “to foster dialogue between scientists around the world and support international cooperation in all space-related activities.”

Golkar, meanwhile, praised Skoltech’s role as “crucial.”

The award plaque

“I can foresee how me and some of my students will relatively soon come up with a startup to commercialize parts of our work as a Skoltech spinoff,” he said.

Golkar is the seventh Italian to win the award. His compatriot Luigi Napolitano, after whom the award is named, made significant contributions to global research on microgravity, among other things.