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Amazon sets about speeding up space data processing in the cloud with AWS Ground Station

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is aiming to take the cost and complexity out of processing space data to make it more readily accessible by colocating managed ground station antennas with its cloud datacentres

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is launching a managed network of ground stations to help cut the time and cost involved with processing data generated by orbiting space satellites, and moving it to the cloud.

The service, known as AWS Ground Station, is being delivered by a fully managed, global network of 12 ground station antennas that are designed to process and store the data received from passing space satellites using the Amazon EC2 or Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), respectively.

User can also use the firm’s data analytics and machine learning tools on the data at these antennas, which was also connected – via the Amazon network – to its global network of datacentre regions and availability zones.

Each antenna is located within one of these zones, and the company already has plans in place to expand the reach of AWS Ground Station by bringing online 10 more units during early 2019.

During a press conference, announcing the launch at the annual AWS re:Invent user summit in Las Vegas, the cloud giant’s CEO Andy Jassy said the service has the potential to put this data in the hands of a much wider pool of users to make use of.

This is because building or leasing an antenna is a costly requirement that organisations wishing to make use of satellite data must undertake, and – in many cases – they have to do so in multiple locations to ensure ready access to it.

Processing this data also usually requires sizeable side-by-side investments in storage, compute and networking resources, and it is these combined cost and time constraints AWS is looking to eradicate through the introduction of the service, said Jassy.

“You figure out which ground station you want to interact with, you identify which satellite you want to interact with, and you set a schedule of when you want that satellite to interact with the chosen ground station,” he said.

“And then each of those ground stations have multiple antennas so you can simultaneously be downlinking and up-linking [data], and that network connection is through a network that is in an Amazon virtual private cloud [VPC].

“Instead of the old norm, where it took hours and sometimes days to get to the infrastructure to actually process it, it’s right there, so we can do it in seconds. And you pay for what you use,” he added.

The service is in preview and is already being trialled by a number of AWS reference customers, including Earth imagery and data analytics company, Digital Globe, global monitoring service provider BlackSky and space analytics company, Spire Global.

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is also an early adopter of the service, which it is using to support the launch of its own Verge antenna network, which uses a network of sub-$20,000 antennas that are able to spick up multiple streams of satellite data all at once.

This is essential in instances where consistent and ongoing access to satellite data is needed to keep tabs on the progress of extreme weather events, for example.

“We’re extremely excited about the partnership we’re building [with Lockheed Martin] and together we have the chance to not only democratise access to space data, but change what business and governments can do with it,” Jassy added.

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