GWPrime

Space Landscape has Dramatically Shifted in Past 10 Years

The transformation in the Space and Earth Observation industry, from a small number of operators flying one to four satellites, to a continually growing number of Space startups building and launching tens, hundreds, and even thousands of satellites, has created an enormous need for innovation in how the world operates these Space-based missions. Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector and Regulated Industries, AWS, talks about the company’s growing interest in this area.

By Anusuya Datta

Can you tell us more about AWS’s new aerospace and satellite business segment?

The AWS Aerospace and Satellite (A&S) Solutions business segment is incredibly exciting. We have built a talented team that is dedicated to bringing AWS’s extensive best practices and experience in storage, data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and more to the global Space enterprise. We welcomed Retired Air Force Major General Clint Crosier, former Director of Space Force Planning at the US Space Force, as the leader of this new business segment. Our team works closely with our customers and partners around the world to reimagine Space system architectures; transform Space enterprises; quickly process Space data on Earth and in orbit; and provide secure, flexible, scalable and cost-efficient Cloud solutions to support the government missions and companies advancing Space around the world.

As the world’s most comprehensive Cloud platform, AWS is uniquely positioned to help accelerate innovation in the global aerospace and satellite industry. We are excited to see customers using AWS to redefine what is possible.

Cloud computing can best address the traditional barriers facing geospatial and EO customers. It provides the scale necessary to handle massive amounts of data downlinked from Space and rapidly process it to gain insights

Why is now the time to shift this focus toward aerospace and satellite?

The world is entering an exciting and daring new age in Space, and we are seeing rapid innovation by both public and private sector organizations. Companies have moved into the Space business and are launching more satellites and human spaceflight missions than ever before.

Take satellite constellations, for example. The Space landscape has dramatically shifted over the past 10 years — from a small number of operators flying one to four satellites, to a continually growing number of Space startups building and launching tens, hundreds, and even thousands of satellites. This has created an enormous need for innovation in how the world operates these Space-based missions. Our global infrastructure and extensive portfolio of Cloud services help organizations fly hundreds of satellites, process and transform massive amounts of data collected from Space, quickly analyze the data and turn it into actionable information, and redefine how we research, make decisions, and see our world.

What are you hearing from your customers in terms of the new types of innovation and solutions they need in order to modernize?

We have always been committed to listening to our customers and inventing on their behalf. In our experience, 90% of what we build is driven by what customers tell us matters, and the other 10% are things we hear from customers where they may not articulate exactly what they want, but we try to read between the lines and invent on their behalf. For example, we heard from many customers that they often need rapid access to satellite ground station resources, and that they would prefer to pay only for what they use, when they need it. So we created AWS Ground Station, the first fully managed ground station service.

In one customer use case, NASA JPL contacted AWS when their primary support ground station for the Asteria Satellite suffered an anomaly, rendering it unable to communicate, and the Asteria Space Vehicle was at risk of total loss if emergency action wasn’t taken. Our team worked with JPL to help them configure their satellite operations software to enable uplink and downlink with the Asteria spacecraft using AWS Ground Station. Three days later, AWS Ground Station had assisted JPL in setting up satellite operations software in both Oregon and Ohio, and Asteria began using AWS Ground Station for all contacts. JPL is a good example of the kind of vital support ground station as a service provides customers, especially those who need rapid access, as JPL went from a downlink-only account to commanding their spacecraft with no upfront cost and only our per-minute price.

With virtualized ground networks, such as AWS Ground Station, customers can directly uplink and downlink communication between spacecraft in orbit and a ground station that is part of the AWS Cloud

Why are analytics and data particularly important to geospatial and Earth Observation customers?

Geospatial and Earth Observation (EO) customers face unique challenges. They need to downlink, process, analyze and distribute massive collections of data and information to customers around the world. They need to access secure services anywhere they work — at ground stations, operations centers, on satellites, and in Space, and then to quickly turn data into analysis-ready, actionable information.

Cloud computing is suited to address the traditional barriers facing geospatial and EO customers. It provides the scale necessary to handle massive amounts of data downlinked from Space and rapidly process that data to gain insights. Once in the Cloud, customers can apply capabilities such as Machine Learning and advanced analytics, and do so with security built-in. These services remove traditional barriers such as security, cost, complexity, and monolithic, isolated and brittle built-for-purpose systems that are holding back the Space industry.

What are some of the mission outcomes that a ‘virtualized ground network’ help companies and government agencies deliver?

First, they provide near-immediate access to satellite data. This is critical in scenarios, such as responding to and coordinating recovery efforts when natural disasters strike, monitoring changes on the planet’s surface, forecasting crop yields to prevent famine, or monitoring maritime activities for illegal shipping activity.

Traditional ground segments can take up to 24 hours to mission-plan their tasking, schedule satellite passes, establish uplinks to the satellites, download and process data, and deliver their imagery or geolocations. Not only that, in order to download satellite data when and where they need it, a lot of customers have to invest in multiple grounds stations all over the Earth, which are costly to operate and maintain. Otherwise, they have to wait for the satellite to pass over a desired location.

With virtualized ground networks, such as AWS Ground Station, customers can directly uplink and downlink communication between spacecraft in orbit and a ground station that is part of the AWS Cloud. This means their data is downlinked directly into the Cloud and they can move that data quickly and securely around the world in seconds. Governments, businesses, and universities can benefit from this more timely satellite data to make more precise, data-driven decisions.

Low-latency satellite coverage and access to data have been big hurdles for some time. How do virtualized ground networks address these issues?

Virtualized ground networks help customers get their Space data into the Cloud faster, and then process and transport the data around the world with low latency and a high level of security. For example, customers can leverage the seven AWS Ground Station regions built on top of AWS’s worldwide network to get low-latency, high-availability connectivity directly to their satellites and reduce the time between contacts for Low-Earth Orbit satellites as they travel between coverage areas. By providing satellite antennas in close proximity to AWS infrastructure regions, AWS Ground Station also gives customers low-latency and low-cost access to AWS services to store and process their data. This allows customers to reduce data processing and analysis time for use cases like weather prediction or natural disaster imagery from hours to minutes, or seconds.

One of our customers, Capella Space runs their entire IT infrastructure on AWS to automate and scale its operations, including satellite command and control using AWS Ground Station. Using AWS, Capella Space’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites provide real-time global coverage that is far faster than traditional satellite data delivery services, which can take up to 24 hours.

Can you tell us about any use cases, especially around advanced EO applications and technologies, such as SAR and IoT?

Capella Space is a great example because, unlike traditional optical satellites, SAR satellites can see through clouds and darkness. When fully deployed, the constellation will capture real-time coverage of every point on Earth. This is significant for use cases such as defense and intelligence monitoring, detection of illegal maritime activities, and mapping natural disaster damage to deliver humanitarian aid. In Capella’s case, it is leveraging virtual ground networks to downlink and analyze data at a scale only possible through Cloud.

In terms of particular technologies, one technology that is important to our customers is AWS IoT Greengrass, which extends AWS to edge devices, so they can act locally on the data they generate while still using the Cloud for management, analytics, and durable storage. This has been used in a multitude of terrestrial use cases, including smart cities, smart factories, and vehicle fleet management. We are working to extend this type of capability to Space vehicles.