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Microsoft Expands Azure Space Efforts with Azure Orbital Ground Stations

Microsoft has launched its first Azure Orbital "ground station as a service" units, the company announced this week, starting with its own datacenter in Quincy, Wash.

Ground stations are used to both ingest data and communicate with satellites. Microsoft unveiled a preview of Azure Orbital at its September Ignite event as part of its larger Azure Space effort. Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenters, boxcar-like structures that provide compute and storage capabilities in remote environments, are also part of Azure Space.

In addition to building out its own ground stations, Microsoft has been collaborating with partners on Azure Orbital. Partners associated with the Azure Orbital effort, mentioned at Ignite, included Amergint, Kratos, KSAT, Kubos, Viasat and US Electrodynamics Inc.

Geospatial Data Processing
Microsoft's announcement described a new partnership with Thales Alenia Space to deliver "near real-time geospatial data" to customers. Specifically, the geospatial data gets processed via Thales Alenia Space's "DeeperVision" solution, which is fed by data from Azure Orbital ground stations. Image storage happens using Azure Storage Blob containers.

"This [geospatial] information is enriched by high-speed, high-volume artificial intelligence and machine learning to create an unprecedented impact on and beyond the planet," explained Clarence Duflocq, vice president for strategy and innovation at Thales Alenia Space, in a released statement.

The geospatial data can be used to illustrate what changed in a landscape over time. Thales Alenia Space's customers include "governments, institutions, space agencies and telecom operators."

Satellite Services Market
Azure Orbital is a fully managed service used for earth observation, remote sensing and global communications across a variety of segments, according to Ashish Jain, a principal product manager lead for Azure Orbital, in a Microsoft video update. The signals data from satellites undergoes high-speed processing in the cloud before being sent to the customer's virtual network, permitting further use of Azure compute, storage, AI, machine learning and cognitive services, Jain explained.

Apparently, the costs for launching satellites with payloads has been declining. Back in November, Jain said that the pricing was at about $2,000 to $3,000 per kilogram versus an earlier $50,000 per kilogram price. He added that "it's estimated that more than 25,000 satellites will be launched in the next three to five years alone."

Those satellites will need connections on the ground, which perhaps is why Microsoft is ramping up its new ground station business.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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