Small is beautiful.
Nanofiche: Space-Age Archival Storage
The Arch Mission Foundation chose a new technology — nickel based films of Nanofiche™ — for the Arch Lunar Library.™
We chose Nanofiche because it is ideally suited to preserving large amounts of analog format information in the harsh environment of space and the surface of the Moon.
When it comes to preserving data in extreme environments, such as outer space, the surfaces and atmospheres of planets, or underground or underwater, there really is no alternative to Nanofiche today.
There is no other archival technology that we know of that is space-grade, lightweight, highly durable and efficient, and ready for prime-time today. Nanofiche is the only viable solution for these scenarios.
What is Nanofiche?
Nanofiche is a new analog archival preservation media that overcomes the limitations of existing technologies.
Unlike other alternatives, nickel-based Nanofiche never degrades and never has to be replaced.
Nickel does not oxidize, has no half-life, and can withstand electromagnetic radiation, high heat, extreme cold, and exposure to the elements, microbes, and many types of chemicals, for thousands of years or longer on Earth.
Nanofiche can also store up to 2,000 analog pages of text at 150 dpi, per square centimeter.
For example a 20 x 20 mm nickel Nanofiche sheet can hold up to 8,000 pages of text rendered at 150 dpi.
At this resolution, a letter size page of Nanofiche would hold up to 1.2 million analog images and pages of text!
If the content to be preserved contains photos, then the output must be rendered at double the resolution (300 dpi) to reduce pixelation and increase image quality. Because photos are rendered to Nanofiche in grayscale diffusion dithers, it effectively reduces the capacity to from 1.2 million images, to 300,000 analog images, per letter size sheet of Nanofiche.
For greater image quality, at 600 dpi, Nanofiche can still hold an impressive 150,000 analog images of pages and photos, per single 8.5”*11” sheet.
It also worth noting that Nanofiche primarily stores data in analog format, but can also be used to encode digital data for archival preservation as well — either as analog images of digital bitmaps, or in native digital formats (such as DVD format).
how long does our data last?
The Pyramids and the hieroglyphics they contain are still readable, thousands of years after being built and abandoned. But, ironically, for all our advances, our civilization’s records are far more delicate than those of ancient civilizations that used stone and metal to capture their knowledge.
If there was a national or global catastrophe, the majority of our knowledge and data would be immediately inaccessible, and then gone without a trace in 50 years or less. Within a few decades to a few hundred years after such an event, all our paper records would decay as well, leaving only dust.
The Ephemerality of The Digital Age
The digital data that our present-day civilization depends on is stored in, and accessed with, plastic and other unstable materials. These materials oxidize and decay in only a few decades or less, or even faster if exposed to water, chemicals, or extreme temperatures.
The computer equipment and electronic devices that power the world - from phones to the server farms that drive the Internet and all major corporations and governments, are also highly vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation. In the event of a major solar storm, or an EMP attack, nuclear blast, or high energy cosmic energy burst, anything not protected by military-grade shielding would be lost.
And then there are all the ordinary risks, like loss of power, power surges, fires, floods, and other natural disasters that can destroy or prevent use of our information technologies and storage media.
In short, our digitally-dependent civilization’s technologies make it increasingly vulnerable to a variety of risks.
Microfiche: 1960’s Archival
The only sure-fire way to guarantee that important information can be recovered in the event of a catastrophic event, is to back it up with specialized archival media that are designed to survive and be recoverable, even without access to computers and electronics.
The preferred technology for critical long-term backups is analog archival storage. However, today nearly all such storage uses an decades-old film-based media called microfiche.
Microfiche is a fragile, film-based media, invented in 1961, that stores data as optical images on film — literally, tiny photographs.
Microfiche is created using camera systems and retrieved using mechanical optical microfiche readers that, if you are over 30, you may have encountered in a library when you were in school.
The weaknesses of Microfiche
While microfiche is certainly more durable than any form of paper or magnetic media, and even most optical media, it is delicate, perishable, costly to maintain, and takes up far more physical space than Nanofiche.
Microfiche is sensitive to environmental conditions and must be carefully maintained. It is vulnerable to humidity, heat, and water damage. It requires HVAC to maintain a proper temperature and humidity environment to preserve it. Sustained loss of power that disables HVAC, or damage from natural disasters such as floods, can result in total loss or damage that requires costly replacement or salvage operations.
Microfiche has a life expectancy of 400 to 800 years, if maintained continuously under ideal conditions. However most State Archives only certify microfiche for 25 to 50 years, after which point a new copy of the media must be generated to be certain that records are preserved. .
Microfiche is also not very space efficient compared to today’s digital media. Microfiche typically stores 0.4 pages per square centimeter. A typical sheet or card of microfiche is 3” x 5” or 9 x 12 cm and contains 40 pages of text, with a reduction equivalent of about 25 times.
A letter size format sheet of microfiche would hold only about 250 pages of text, compared to up to 1.2 million pages of text in Nanofiche. While there are some forms of microfiche that can store slightly more pages per sheet, they are not widely used and are still not comparable to Nanofiche’s capacity.
Due to the dual necessities of HVAC and replacement, and the physical space requirements of microfiche storage, and the need for old-fashioned microfiche readers, the total cost-of ownership of microfiche grows with time
Who Makes Nanofiche?
Compared to the weaknesses of microfiche, Nanofiche offers a compelling new alternative that is perfectly suited to the exotic needs of the Arch Mission Foundation. But it may also have value across a broader range of organizations, from governments to large commercial corporations and nonprofits that need to protect large amounts of critical information against all scenarios.
If there is one weakness of Nanofiche today, it is that it is a new medium, that is only supplied by a single vendor.
Based on extensively studied and tested technology, studied by Los Alamos National Laboratories, Nanofiche is not yet supported by an industry of suppliers and aftermarket service providers. However, this may develop over time as the benefits of this technology are understood.
Nanofiche is a patented, proprietary product of NanoArchival, the first commercial spinout from The Arch Mission Foundation’s non-profit research and innovation initiatives.
The technology underlying Nanofiche is based on the inventions and technology of Arch Mission Foundation advisor, Bruce Ha, Ph.D, an optical storage engineer who helped to pioneer the Photo CD technology for Kodak.
In exchange for helping to incubate NanoArchival, the ArchMission Foundation is a small founding equity partner in the venture. It is hoped that, if NanoArchival is successful, the venture will become a source of financial support and endowment to the Arch Mission Foundation in the future.
This incubation model is similar to other non-profit/for-profit spinout innovation incubators, such as the model at SRI Ventures (Disclosure: Arch Mission co-founder, Nova Spivack helped to develop and build the SRI Ventures incubator).
WHAT ARE THE NICKEL NANOFICHE SPECIFICATIONS?
• Deep blue laser technology optically reduced to a 100nm focus point.
• Text at 0.003 point size can be printed at 1,000 pages per minute lithographically per printer.
• Size of each character of text is 1 micron, or the size of a bacillus bacterium. A page fits within the width of a human hair.
• 1.2 million pages of 200 dpi images or text can fit on a single 8.5 inch * 11 inch letter-sized sheet of Nanofiche.
• The master is written to glass at 300,000 dpi and then is electro deposited into nickel.
• Elemental nickel has melting point of 2,651 F.
• Los Alamos environmentally tested writing on nickel at high temperature (570 F) and found no degradation up to the longest test time of 65h as measured by SEM at 20,000X.
• Longevity of engraved content expected to last billions of years, if undisturbed, for example, in outer space. On the surface of the Moon, we project 50 million years or longer (depending on how it is protected). On the surface of the Earth, at least 10,000 years (or up to millions of years if below the surface).
• Every page is encoded with diffractive security features as a special flag as well.
• Covered by US patents 8717650, 8264757, 7961367, 7830573