Amazon Launches AWS Ground Station as a Cloud Service for Satellite Operators

Amazon Web Services is building a network of twelve “fully-managed” AWS ground stations as a service that satellite companies can make use of for their data retrieval and processing operations

Amazon Launches AWS Ground Station as a Cloud Service for Satellite Operators

At the AWS re:Invent on Tuesday (Nov 27), Amazon Web Services launched the first two of twelve fully-managed AWS Ground Stations it proposes to establish by the middle of next year.

Satellite service providers can make use of these ground-based stations to facilitate their data retrieval and processing workflow on an “as-needed, pay-as-you-go basis.”

“We’re starting out with a pair of ground stations today, and will have 12 in operation by mid-2019,” AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr wrote on the company blog. “Each ground station is associated with a particular AWS Region,” he said.

The new service will be developed around the existing infrastructure from AWS’s global network of data centers.

Until now, big-name satellite operators had no choice but to spend huge sums of money to build and run their own ground stations in order to meet their data retrieval and processing needs, while smaller entities managed their workflow through long-term contracts with existing ground stations.

Well, all of that should change for the better once the proposed AWS stations are up and running, sometime in the second half of 2019.

“Instead of building your own ground station or entering in to a long-term contract, you can make use of AWS Ground Station on an as-needed, pay-as-you-go basis,” wrote Barr.

The new AWS service will afford satellite companies the flexibility to access these ground stations on short-term notice, as and when needed and pay accordingly, or sign up in advance to avail services on a more regular basis, which the company claims is an even more economical option.

“You can get access to a ground station on short notice in order to handle a special event: severe weather, a natural disaster, or something more positive such as a sporting event,” Barr said.

However, “if you need access to a ground station on a regular basis to capture Earth observations or distribute content world-wide, you can reserve capacity ahead of time and pay even less,” he added.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch that the proposed AWS service will ensure faster transfer of processed and ready satellite data to developers.

“To rule real-world application use cases you need to make maps and real-time spatial data available in an easy-to-consume, real-time and affordable way,” Mueller told the tech site.

Satellite companies like Spire Global, BlackSky and DigitalGlobe, that operate their own ground stations, are partnering with AWS to work in tandem with the company’s upcoming ground facilities to enhance and streamline their individual operations.

Spire, which alone operates at least 30 such facilities, is confident of benefitting from the AWS platform in terms of faster speed and lower costs.

“This offering that they’re doing is just an extension” CNBC quoted Spire CEO Peter Platzer as saying.

“Spire has built one of the world’s largest ground station networks … and now imagine that Amazon does all of that and the only thing that Spire does is rents capacity on the ground station,” he told the news channel.

Explaining the concept at the re:Invent, AWS Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy said that the first prerequisite for a ground facility is having access to ground antennas located across the globe, after which you need to mobilize the necessary expertise to be able to uplink data to and downlink data from satellites.

“You first need a number of antennas for ground stations, you need them situated all over the world,” Jassy said.

“Then, if you have to uplink and downlink that data, you have to write all kinds of business logic, scripts and workflows, and to take the data and do something with it you need some kind of infrastructure,” added the AWS CEO.

Once operational, AWS ground stations will take up the responsibility of communicating with satellites using specialized antennas, complex computer programs and other infrastructure, on behalf of satellite operators, thereby allowing these companies to divert their time and resources to other aspects of their business.

“Storage, processing and analytics on top of it, have its benefits, but all of things are difficult for customers. And it is also expensive,” Jassy said, adding “space is hard, and getting data to and from orbiting satellites can be even harder.”

Jassy said that the AWS decision was largely influenced by customer demand and the fact that the company could utilize its existing network of worldwide availability zones, made it a viable proposition.

While satellite data is “incredibly useful” for developing an extensive range of applications, “it is super complex and expensive to build and operate the infrastructure needed to do so,” AWS senior vice president Charlie Bell said.

“Today, we are giving satellite customers the ability to dynamically scale their ground station antenna use based on actual need.,” he said.

“And, they will be able to ingest data straight into AWS, where they can securely store, analyze, and transmit products to their customers.”

During the presentation, Jassy was joined onstage by Lockheed Martin EVP Rick Ambrose to announce a strategic partnership between the two companies that propose to integrate Lockheed Martin’s new Verge antenna network with AWS’s planned ground stations.

“Together, AWS and Lockheed Martin are providing satellite operators increased flexibility, resiliency, and scale in a complete connectivity solution, ground architecture, and cloud environment for integrated satellite and data management operations,” Ambrose said.

“Our collaboration with AWS allows us to deliver robust ground communications that will unlock new benefits for environmental research, scientific studies, security operations, and real-time news media,” he continued.

“In time, with satellites built to take full advantage of the distributed Verge network, AWS and Lockheed Martin expect to see customers develop surprising new capabilities using the service,” Ambrose added.

Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector for AWS said: “The integration of AWS Ground Station with Lockheed Martin Verge brings the unique capabilities of both companies to mutual customers, enabling them to control satellites across both networks and downlink data faster with more resiliency.”

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