Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, July 25, 2024

AWS Takes the High Ground with Space Unit 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has long talked about moving manufacturing and other industrial activities off the earth as a way to preserve our only home. The cloud giant took “one small step” toward a “sustainable commercial space economy” this week with the launch of a dedicated space business unit.

Amazon Web Services’ “Aerospace and Satellite Solutions” operation is built around ground stations that provide downlinks to satellites, then process, store and transmit image and other sensor data they capture. The goal, the company said Tuesday (June 30), is to “bring AWS services and solutions to the space enterprise.”

The service would offer low-latency Internet access, high-resolution Earth observation and “ubiquitous” Internet of Things connectivity. The effort includes launching “new services that process space data on Earth and in orbit,” AWS said in a blog post unveiling the orbiting cloud business.

The company (NASDAQ: AMZN) also announced the hiring of retired U.S. Air Force Major General Clint Crosier to head the new space business unit. Crosier previously served as planning director with the U.S. Space Force.

Among the first components of the space cloud effort is the AWS Ground Station, a managed satellite communications service used to downlink, process and distribute satellite data in near real-time. It can also be used to uplink satellite commands across multiple cloud regions. Among the early customers for the service is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT).

Another early ground station customer, earth observation specialist Capella Space, uses AWS infrastructure to operate a constellation of synthetic-aperture radar satellites. The San Francisco-based company plans to launch “hourly SAR global coverage” that could be delivered to commercial and government users in near-real time.

Using web applications or APIs, customers request coverage over specific locations. Those imaging tasks are routed to Capella satellites. Imagery is then downlinked to the AWS cloud for processing and delivery.

The AWS space network would link cloud customers to data lakes and storage, edge computing, virtual mission operations, secure satellite connectivity, image processing and intelligence analytics as well as AI and machine learning capabilities, the company said.

The managed service is positioned as a way to communicate with satellites, process data and scale those operations once data are migrated to the cloud. Ground stations are located in the AWS U.S. West (Oregon), U.S. East (Ohio), European Union (Stockholm, Sweden), and Middle East (Bahrain). An Asia Pacific ground station came online in Sydney, Australia, in April, the company’s first in the Southern Hemisphere.

The network streams satellite data to the AWS Elastic Compute Cloud for processing. Data sets are then stored and archived. Among the data analytics options are the company’s Rekognition image analyzer along with SageMaker for applying AI and machine learning algorithms to satellite imagery.

Ultimately, satellite communications and data transfer rely on access to ground-based antennas. Hence, AWS emphasized that ground station users “pay only for the actual antenna time that [they] use.” The pay-as-you-go model allows customers to use any antenna in the AWS ground station network.

Those data are then downlinked to the appropriate AWS cloud region to speed processing. “Immediate” data processing is promoted for satellite applications such as weather forecasting or responding to natural disasters.

That consumption pricing model also addresses growing concerns about skyrocketing data egress charges as data are move in and out of cloud storage.


About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).