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Cloud suppliers eye APAC space industry

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are working with local governments and supplying cloud technologies to support the region’s growing space industry

Major cloud suppliers have cast their sights on Asia-Pacific’s space sector, as more organisations in the region look to tap the power of cloud computing in a variety of space technology applications.

In India, for example, a cloud-based decision-making platform is being used to collect intelligence from space satellites to predict disasters, while in Australia, farmers are using Earth observation and sensor data to save water.

Like their counterparts in other sectors, organisations working with space-related technologies see the same benefits of cloud – elasticity, scalability and access to cutting-edge capabilities such as artificial intelligence.

According to Morgan Stanley, the global space industry is expected to grow to about $1tn by 2040. In Asia-Pacific, the industry is being led by major space powers India, China and Japan, while upstarts such as South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore are looking to grow their space capabilities as well.

In 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWS) set up a dedicated business to support the space industry, including in the Asia-Pacific region, to meet the demand of customers who want to apply the best practices and services in cloud computing to the space sector.

Mani Thiru, head of aerospace and satellite at AWS Asia-Pacific and Japan, was roped in to helm the space business in the region after two years at the company, at around the same time when Australia established a national space agency.

“We set about creating a team that would actually allow us to look into space and satellite solutions a little bit deeper,” Thiru told Computer Weekly. “And what we discovered was that it is an increasingly competitive and vibrant sector.”

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AWS currently runs an extensive space technology programme that spans a gamut of activities, from providing promotional credits and training, to hackathons and business coaching.

“A space business, like any other business, requires a business model,” said Thiru. “It has to satisfy a customer and there has to be a market for the products we are building. We take customers through that journey of building and validating a product, and then being able to scale into different markets.”

In Singapore, AWS has teamed up with the Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn) to foster the development of space technologies in the city-state through workforce development and other efforts.

OSTIn and AWS will also work with space data professionals and research institutions to identify space-related datasets to enable access, collaboration and analysis of open data through the AWS Open Data Sponsorship programme, which will cover the cost of storage for publicly available, high-value datasets.

In Australia, Microsoft is making strides in the country’s nascent space industry. In September 2021, it partnered with Nokia to grow South Australia’s space capabilities. Its Azure Space team will also join Lot Fourteen, a precinct in Adelaide focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, research, education, culture and tourism.

“Microsoft believes that some of our greatest challenges can be addressed with the support of space technologies and ubiquitous connectivity,” said Lynn McDonald, a former US Air Force Colonel and lead of Microsoft Azure Space in Australia.

“This important collaboration with Nokia will allow Australian organisations to take a giant leap forward into a new era of compute, data and communications capabilities, catapulting them to the very forefront of digital innovation,” she added.

Software and cloud skills

Developing space technology requires hardware engineering capabilities, but software and cloud skills have become increasingly important when dealing with swathes of data collected by space missions, whether it is going into deep space in search of celestial bodies or looking down on Earth to monitor weather patterns.

Meanwhile, AWS is making hardware capabilities more accessible to the space industry. Instead of forking out more than $500,000 to build a satellite ground station, Thiru said developers can access an AWS Ground Station on a pay-as-you-go basis.

“A developer or someone who’s building a new space product can connect to a satellite, download some information and then do something with that information,” she said. “It’s a very exciting world.”

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