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Microsoft Cites Partner Support with Azure Orbital Ground Station Release

Microsoft described Azure Space advancements, plus multiple partner support efforts, in a Wednesday announcement.

The news included a commercial release of Microsoft's Azure Orbital Ground Station service. Microsoft also announced a preview of a new Azure Orbital Cloud Access service, which promises to expand satellite connectivity options. Lastly, Microsoft cited efforts with partners to virtualize satellite hardware network functions.

Azure Orbital Ground Station Commercial Release
Azure Orbital is Microsoft's groundstation-as-a-service offering that was at preview stage late last year. Organizations can use the service to connect to satellite data and also use Microsoft Azure services for "hyperscale" computing and analytical capabilities.

The "general availability" release of Azure Orbital means the service is deemed ready for commercial use, typically by satellite operators.

"Today, alongside our partner network, including KSAT, we are making this service [Azure Orbital Ground Station] available to all satellite operators, such as Pixxel, Muon Space and Loft Orbital," Microsoft's announcement indicated.

Microsoft described having two Azure Orbital groundstations last year, with one located in Quincy, Wash. and another in Sweden. These groundstations get extended via support from Microsoft's partners. Microsoft previously has worked with partners such as Amergint, Kratos, KSAT, Kubos, Viasat and US Electrodynamics Inc. to that end. Microsoft has claimed to have northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere coverage with Azure Orbital.

Microsoft's Wednesday announcement explained that the Azure Orbital Ground Station service can deliver customer data "to an Azure region of choice at zero cost." Satellite operators can then do "further processing" on Azure infrastructure.

Microsoft listed some customers using the Azure Orbital Ground Station service:

  • Loft Orbital, which develops applications for satellites, is working to launch "the first Azure-enabled Loft satellite," which is expected to occur next year.
  • Muon Space is using the Azure Orbital Ground Station service to expand its global coverage of its earth environmental data collection operations.
  • Pixxel is streaming earth satellite images to Azure datacenters "with zero data backhaul costs" and processing it using "Azure AI/ML services."

Azure Orbital Cloud Access Preview
The Azure Orbital Cloud Access preview was described as expanding "connectivity across fiber, cellular and satellite networks." It's also conceived as aiding satellite use of 5G wireless networks.

Here's how the announcement characterized the Azure Orbital Cloud Access preview:

Today, we are announcing the preview of Azure Orbital Cloud Access. Serving as a step toward the future of integrated 5G and satellite communications, Azure Orbital Cloud Access is a new service that enables low-latency (1-hop) access to the cloud -- from anywhere on the planet -- making it easier to bring satellite-based communications into your enterprise cloud operation.

Microsoft has a partnership with SpaceX's Starlink connectivity service using Azure Orbital Cloud Access technology to enable "access to Microsoft cloud services anywhere Starlink operates."

Azure Orbital Cloud Access uses software-defined wide area network technology from Juniper Networks to support satellite connections with wireless and fiber-optic networks, Microsoft explained.

The Azure Orbital Cloud Access preview is currently available to Azure Government customers. Microsoft is planning to offer this service on a "simple monthly subscription basis and a pay-as-you-go satellite communications consumption model," per the announcement.

Software-Defined Partner Efforts
Microsoft also emphasized work with its partners to virtualize technologies used with satellite communications.

One example is ST Engineering iDirect, which offers groundstation support. Its iDirect modem has been demonstrated as "running fully virtualized as a piece of software on Azure," Microsoft indicated.

Another example is Microsoft's collaboration with satellite network services provider SES on a "new joint Satellite Communications Virtualization Program." It's an effort to create the world's first "fully virtualized satellite communications ground network."

The Satellite Communications Virtualization Program will help standardize system interfaces and better enable 5G wireless network alignments with commercial satellite networks. Microsoft touted this program as "the blueprint for future fully virtualized ground station sites that bring the power of Azure to the Space ecosystem."

Microsoft and SES are planning to issue a request for proposal document, inviting potential program participants, in Q4 of this year.

About the Author

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

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