SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, after a successful launch has captured the world’s imagination and attention mainly because of its power but also because of its payload. Famously aboard the spacecraft is a Tesla Roadster, owned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, but joining the bright red sports car on its journey around our solar system is the Arch Library, created using 5D optical storage technology developed by Professor Peter Kazansky and his team at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre.
This first Arch library (pronounced Ark) – known as the Solar Library - contains the Foundation Trilogy of science fiction books written by Elon Musk’s favourite American author, Isaac Asimov. Archs are the vision of the Arch Mission Foundation which wants to permanently preserve and disseminate human knowledge as part of an ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’ across time and space for the benefit of future generations. Over the last few years, scientists at the ORC have made a major step forward in the development of digital data storage that is capable of surviving for billions of years. Using nanostructured glass, they have developed the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.
The storage allows unprecedented properties including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1,000°C and virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C ) opening a new era of eternal data archiving. As a very stable and safe form of portable memory, the technology could be highly useful for organisations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records. The technology was first experimentally demonstrated in 2013 when a 300 kB digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D.
Now, major documents from human history such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks, Magna Carta and Kings James Bible, have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race. A copy of the UDHR encoded to 5D data storage was recently presented to UNESCO by the ORC at the International Year of Light (IYL) closing ceremony in Mexico. The documents were recorded using ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometres (one millionth of a metre).
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
This Arch Library is the second in a series of five (the first resides in Elon Musk’s personal library) and are two of the longest-lasting storage objects ever created by humans, and the product of decades of work by Professor Kazansky and the ORC to invent a new form of storage capable of serving the needs of the growth of big data. The Arch Mission plans to launch more Arch libraries into orbit in the future to create a ring of knowledge around the sun.