Microsoft Azure Orbital opens up space to everyone

Artist's impression of radio signal ASKAP J173608.2-321635 arriving at Earth
(Image credit: Sebastian Zentilomo/University of Sydney)

Azure Space, Microsoft’s project for bringing the power of cloud computing to the space and satellite-related connectivity/compute industry, is getting a significant upgrade, the company have revealed.

In a new blog post, Microsoft detailed new partnerships and new features that it hopes will result in better satellite imagery, better connectivity, and more data/insights.

Azure Orbital is a fully managed cloud-based ground station-as-a-service that lets users communicate with their spacecraft or satellite constellations, downlink and uplink data, process the data in the cloud, chain services with Azure services in unique scenarios, and create new products.

AI-powered eye in the sky

The platform has now reached preview phase, meaning customers can now communicate and control satellites directly from their ground stations positioned around the world - with no backhaul costs into Azure.

Microsoft also announced SpaceEye, as well as an image-enhancing feature built on Project Turing. Powered by artificial intelligence, the SpaceEye tool allows satellites to peek through the clouds and see what goes on on the surface of the planet, providing image enhancement that increases the resolution of satellite imagery to make it comparable to aerial. 

“Sixty-seven percent of the world is covered in clouds—a major challenge for Earth observation from space is that much of the Earth is covered by opaque clouds,” Microsoft explains in the announcement. “Built on Azure by Microsoft Research, SpaceEye is an AI-based system that generates daily cloud-free optical and multispectral imagery for the planet.”

This technology is also enhancing Bing Maps worldwide, covering over 50% of all user requests, Microsoft added.

The company also announced partnerships with Airbus, iDirect, Esri, and Orbital Insight, bringing better satellite imagery, more flexible solutions, more data, and new insights. 

“The power of extracting and leveraging data collected from space can transform entire industries and create new paradigms,” Microsoft concludes. “Azure Space, through partnerships, space data, our collaboration tools, and Microsoft services and capabilities, unlock powerful possibilities for customers.”

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.