AWS looks to the sky with new satellite 'Ground Station-as-a-service' offering
Business Management

AWS looks to the sky with new satellite 'Ground Station-as-a-service' offering

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is looking to help the space industry lower the cost of transmitting satellite data back and forth from ground stations with two new products announced at re:Invent in Las Vegas yesterday.

In a marked departure from previous years, the vendor herded the collected press into a room to make the announcement, which was delivered by CEO Andy Jassy. "Not what you expected", was how he concluded the first announcement of a very niche Ground Station-as-a-service solution for the satellite industry.

Jassy said this product was "something that originated out of customer input," with the likes of the European Space Agency, Jeff Bezos' own Blue Origin and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab existing AWS customers.

"What they tell us is that it's not so simple dealing with satellites if you want to upload and download data. You need a number of antennas and ground stations across the world. Then if you uplink and downlink that data you need to write business objects and scripts and workflows to take and analyse that data and use it in applications. That also means if you want to take that data and use it, you need infrastructure to store, process and do analytics, which is all difficult and expensive."

The result is AWS Ground Station, "the world's first fully managed global ground station-as-a-service," Jassy said. He added that the vendor already has a "couple" of Ground Stations up and running for its pilot customers, with 10 more expected to be stood up for the middle of next year.

AWS Ground Station works by taking satellite data at one of these 12 ground stations and processing it in an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance and stores data in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), where it can be mined for insights using various AWS analytics and machine learning services.

It also offers a graphical interface for identifying antenna locations and communications windows, with the ability to schedule antenna time.

Pricing is typically flexible, charged per-minute of downlink time, with an option to pre-pay for blocks of minutes, something AWS asserts could save customers 80 percent on their current ground station costs.

Partners

Preview partners include BlackSky, HawkEye, Open Cosmos, Lockheed Martin and Digital Globe, from which cofounder and CTO Dr Walter Scott also spoke on stage.

Scott explained that the satellite imagery specialist was already all in on AWS, and processes 80 TBs of data a day with the vendor.

"Building that global ground network requires resources, land, hardware, maintenance," he said. "AWS Ground Station allows us to expand that in an elastic fashion and lets us get into the cloud much faster."

Then when it comes to Lockheed Martin the two companies announced virtual resilient ground - or VERGE - to combat the issue of parabolic antennas and their limitation to only communicate with one satellite at a time, and only when it is directly overhead. This is particularly pertinent as executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, Rick Ambrose, said he expects to have 16,000 satellites in the sky over the next decade.

The solution is a set of low cost ground and network antennas capturing multiple streams of satellite data and sending it to the AWS cloud.

Ambrose says this brings down barriers to entry for new companies looking to work with satellites as the "price and opportunity cost drops," he said.

"Imagine you are a startup company or university that wants a capability, the barrier to entry used to be quite high, but this turns it upside down to use this as a service," he added, "the bottom line is a smart, capable, cyber hardened ground network."

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