Microsoft is moving into the final frontier with Azure Space, a new initiative that will deliver innovation to serve the mission needs of the space industry, and collaborating with industry leaders to bring new and enhanced offerings to organizations across the public and private sector.
As barriers to space access fall, organizations across a multitude of industries are taking advantage of the opportunities that satellites and other space technologies can offer for endeavors such as earth observation and global satellite communications. This creates rich opportunities as well as challenges.
The expansion of the industry creates a need for more experts who can test, train and understand highly complex space systems and constellations before placing them in orbit.
Meanwhile, space-generated data is growing exponentially, requiring expanded ground control capabilities as well as data processing, storage and analytics – turning this data into knowledge and actionable solutions.
Another big global challenge is the growing need for bandwidth and cloud services in remote locations.
Azure Space is designed to address these challenges while supporting the space community’s evolution. Azure Space will bring together Azure technology and an extensive network of expert partners offering solutions for the industry.
“We have made a deliberate decision to work with partners to deliver our offerings to commercial and government customers. Creating opportunities in helping build broader ecosystems is core to everything we do at Microsoft,” says Tom Keane, Azure Global & Industry Solutions corporate vice president.
Microsoft is already working with a number of industry leaders including KSAT, Viasat, Kratos, AMERGINT, KubOS and US Electrodynamics. Tuesday, we announce an expansion to our work with SES and a new collaboration with SpaceX. More on how we’re working with each of our partners below.
Microsoft is working with SpaceX to provide satellite-powered internet connectivity on Azure.
The two companies plan to deliver satellite connectivity between field-deployed assets and cloud resources across the globe to both the public and private sector via SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network. The collaboration includes connecting Starlink’s high speed, low-latency satellite broadband with Azure’s new Modular Datacenter (MDC).
The two companies also plan to further connect Starlink with Microsoft’s global network – including Azure edge devices – integrating SpaceX’s ground stations with Azure networking capabilities.
SpaceX recently won a contract with the Space Development Agency to build new satellites – separate from the Starlink system – in support of a Space Tracking Layer defense system capable of detecting and tracking ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles. Microsoft will join the SpaceX team on this project.
While the two companies expect to serve government customers, particularly in defense and intelligence, they foresee growing satellite connectivity and capability opportunities throughout the private sector in areas including telecommunications, energy and agriculture.
SES, one of the world’s largest satellite operators and the leading content connectivity solutions provider, teamed up with Microsoft to provide communication services as the Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) internet connectivity partner for Azure Orbital. Now, Microsoft is expanding that relationship to further integrate MEO satellite connectivity with the MDC.
“The alignment and integration of Azure with SES’ global satellite and terrestrial network further enables the connected intelligent edge, even more so now with the ability to provide low-latency services and backup to those whose missions will benefit from the use of MDC,” says JP Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks.
SES worked with the Microsoft Azure team to demonstrate a simulated fiber outage at an MDC, and the network was able to automatically switch from fiber to SES’ satellite connectivity into Azure. The two companies are developing solutions in which SES provides connectivity or resiliency to terrestrial connectivity to autonomous MDCs at speeds of multi-hundreds of megabits per second (Mbps) today and scalable to multi-gigabits per second with O3b MPOWER, SES’s next generation communications system.
Under the Azure Orbital agreement, SES will be both a Microsoft partner, building gateway infrastructure, and customer, as it will be co-locating its MEO O3b mPOWER teleports with Azure datacenters. Together the companies will support connectivity between cloud datacenter regions and cloud edge devices, enabling direct “one-hop” connectivity to Azure.
SES will also use Azure Orbital as a key platform to provide cloud-based managed services such as enhanced security, SD-WAN and other network functions.
The Microsoft-SES collaboration is part of a multi-year digital transformation agreement between the two companies to expand the use of Microsoft Azure across SES operations and jointly develop cloud-based video and data connectivity managed services.
KSAT, one of the world’s largest providers of ground communications services for satellites and launch vehicles, will be working with Azure Orbital to provide satellite internet connectivity through its global network of ground stations, made up of more than 200 antennas at over 24 locations.
“With the power of Azure and with our combined global footprint, our partnership can bring expanded connectivity, high performance computing, machine learning and data analytics opportunities for both public and private sector organizations to be able to turn that data into knowledge,” says Chirag Parikh, Azure Space senior director.
KSAT’s ground stations will be interconnected with Azure so that Azure Orbital customers will be able to use the platform to schedule satellite contacts and bring data to Azure for processing and storage.
“Being able to deliver satellite data and run resource-intensive computing such as machine learning techniques and other applications using cloud-based solutions will not only change the way we deliver our services, but also how our customers will be able to utilize this information in the future,” says Rolf Skatteboe, KSAT president and CEO.
Viasat will be working with Azure Orbital, integrating its Real-Time Earth (RTE) solution into the Microsoft platform. The RTE network provides ground station as a service on a pay-per-use basis to commercial and government earth observation and remote sensing organizations.
“We’re proud to join the Microsoft Azure Orbital ecosystem, as this relationship will provide Azure Orbital end-users with access to advanced antennas systems and modems, while also elevating opportunities to develop new state-of-the-art technologies that stand to transform the ground station as a service industry,” says John Williams, Viasat RTE vice president.
That integration will allow Azure Orbital customers to access RTE functions, including initial commissioning and calibration; telemetry, tracking and command services; and downlinking data. Viasat’s high-rate receiver, VHR-3200, is capable of downlink speeds from 15 Mbps to 6400 Mbps for computing at the edge.
“Viasat’s RTE ground service provides real-time automation and interoperability with multiple layers of redundancy and diversity to ensure Microsoft Azure Orbital end-users’ data is transmitted and delivered in a timely, affordable and secure manner,” says Azure Space’s Parikh.
Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, which develops advanced communications products and platforms across the satellite ground segment, has also joined the Azure Orbital network.
Kratos products are built into the underlying cloud architecture of Azure Orbital. This includes its OpenSpace Digitizer, which converts radio frequency signals from antennas into network-ready IP packets that are digitally transported via a virtual network function (VNF). Additional OpenSpace VNFs, used to process wideband signals and record data for Earth observation missions, are available in the Azure Marketplace.
Kratos also offers the OpenSpace OpsCenter Network Management Application, which provides a unified view for customers monitoring physical gateway-based devices and cloud-based VNFs.
“With Microsoft Azure Orbital, our customers can downlink data when and where they need it and rapidly gain insights to make decisions faster without having to invest in complex and expensive infrastructure that is not core to their business,” says Azure Networking’s Pitsch. “Kratos’ OpenSpace virtualized ground products support our effort to deliver the full power of cloud technologies for satellite operations.”
AMERGINT, a satellite ground communications company specializing in software modems, joins Azure Orbital as both an infrastructure manufacturer and an Azure Marketplace application publisher.
“We are thrilled to support Microsoft in the buildout of Microsoft Azure Orbital,” says Matt Prechtel, AMERGINT business area manager for cloud products and solutions. “From our position as a leader in satellite ground processing, we believe that the future of satellite ground is intertwined with the cloud and this growing market segment. The cloud enables scalability, resilience and most importantly, acceleration to on-orbit operations beyond anything we’ve ever seen to date.”
AMERGINT produces digitizers and data transport appliances that collect digitized RF satellite signals, transport them across networks, and allow them to be processed in the Azure cloud. Customers can use AMERGINT’s satTracCloud software to connect to, decrypt and transform satellite data and enable users to accelerate their missions.
Kubos provides products and platforms that enable enterprises to securely develop and operate satellite constellations. The company’s mission control software will be available in Azure Marketplace for Azure Orbital customers.
Kubos’ cloud-based Major Tom mission control platform allows operators to control and track satellites, while managing ground segment infrastructure. Major Tom offers integrated developer tools, visual dashboards, user-defined automation, and APIs for integrating and sharing data.
Kubos also offers an integrated open-source satellite flight software framework designed for mission developers, called KubOS. The framework packages core satellite flight-critical functions with a suite of developer tools and onboard services.
US EIectrodynamics (USEI) provides government and commercial satellite teleport services including broadcast video, aviation, internet services delivery, and telemetry, tracking and control.
USEI is working with Microsoft to integrate its ground stations with Azure Orbital, enabling customers to communicate with their satellites and work with data directly in Azure.