Microsoft has launched a new cloud-based platform designed to help satellite operators ingest and analyse data drawn down from fleets in orbit.
Unveiled at the company's Microsoft Ignite event, Azure Orbital will allow satellite operators to download and process satellite data and control spacecraft remotely, while avoiding the expense associated with managing ground stations.
The service will compete directly with a similar offering from Amazon Web Services - itself called Ground Station - which was launched almost two years ago.
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Despite AWS’ sizeable head start, Microsoft believes there is space for both players in the market and anticipates a system whereby partner businesses (e.g. satellite operators) are shared between the two services.
Microsoft Azure Orbital
To ensure the utility of a satellite is maximized, it is important to be able to monitor its status and access data it generates at any given moment. This service is provided by ground stations, which receive telemetry data from satellites and provide that all-important communication link.
Services such as AWS Ground Station and Microsoft Azure Orbital allow operators to access ground station resources and interact with satellites without having to build and operate earth terminals themselves.
“Essentially, we’re building a ‘ground station as a service’,” explained Mark Russinovich, CTO at Microsoft Azure.
“Satellites are becoming more and more important for a variety of reasons. When it comes to cloud and data processing, obviously the cloud is a key part of any solution that goes into leveraging satellites, whether it’s imaging for weather, or natural disasters or ground communication.”
As part of the Ignite demo, Microsoft will call down images from the Spanish Deimos-2 satellite via a company-owned ground station in Quincy, Washington.
However, to expand the service beyond Microsoft’s own ground station coverage, the firm will turn to a range of different partners. These include Norwegian firm KSAT, which provides communications services for spacecraft, prominent satellite operator SES Networks and more.
With the help of partner organizations such as these, Microsoft believes Azure Orbital will provide a service capable of rivalling its Amazon-owned rival in terms of coverage, speed and security.
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