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5 Big Things To Know About AWS’ Space Foray

'AWS is committed to supporting our customers' missions -- even those outside the Earth's atmosphere,' says Teresa Carlson, AWS' worldwide public sector vice president. 'The Earth- and space-based systems that we build now will inform nearly every decision we make in the years to come.'

Amazon Web Services is ratcheting up its aerospace and satellite solutions business with a new dedicated division led by the retired two-star Air Force general who previously was in charge of planning for the U.S. Space Force armed services branch.

AWS’ goal is to increase military and commercial space business for its cloud computing infrastructure and services, building on its current customer base that includes NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Geollect, BlackSky and now Capella Space.

The new aerospace and satellite solutions division, announced today as the largest cloud provider hosted the AWS Public Sector Summit Online, will work with customers and partners on reimagining space system architectures, transforming space enterprises, launching new services to process space data on Earth and in orbit, and providing secure, flexible, scalable, and cost-efficient cloud solutions to help advance their space-oriented missions, AWS said.

“AWS is committed to supporting our customers' missions -- even those outside the Earth's atmosphere,” Teresa Carlson, AWS’ worldwide public sector vice president, said during her summit keynote today. “The Earth- and space-based systems that we build now will inform nearly every decision we make in the years to come. We want to bring all those AWS tools to bear to help our customers succeed in space.”

The world is entering an “exciting and daring new age in space,” Carlson said. “New companies have moved into the space business and are launching more satellites and human missions into orbit than ever before,” she said. “NASA continues to invest in developing a sustainable commercial space economy through Project Artemis. Low-latency internet, high-resolution Earth observation and ubiquitous internet-of -things (IoT) communications companies will launch thousands of new satellites over the next five years to provide sensing capabilities to customers around the world.”

Here are the top four other things to know about AWS’ public- and private-sector space foray under its new aerospace and satellite solutions business segment.

AWS Already In The Game With Ground Station

The new aerospace and satellite solutions division will tap AWS’ already significant experience supporting commercial and government customers that design satellites and conduct spaceflight operations, according to Carlson.

“Many of these customers are leveraging AWS Ground Station to downlink, process, analyze and distribute data in a cost-effective way,” Carlson said. “Large and established organizations can use AWS Ground Station to rapidly scale their satellite communications operations, and space startups are growing faster by using AWS Ground Station to avoid major capital expenditures that would be required to build satellite ground infrastructures.”

The cloud provider launched AWS Ground Station as generally available in May 2019. The fully managed service allows satellite owners and operators to control satellite communications, uplink, downlink and process satellite data, and scale their satellite operations.

Ground stations are facilities that use antennas to provide communications between the earth and satellites. AWS Ground Station has an antenna systems network to communicate with lower and medium Earth orbit satellites using reserved or on-demand scheduling. The antenna systems are located in close proximity to AWS cloud regions to allow users to leverage AWS cloud capabilities with minimal latency.

AWS Ground Station, which is being used by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and other customers, is an indication of the space solutions that AWS could develop, according to Carlson.

“Today, customers around the world use AWS services and solutions such as data lakes and storage, edge computing, virtual mission operations, resilient, robust and secure satellite connectivity, image processing and intelligence analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to drive innovation in space-based missions,” Carlson wrote in a blog post announcing the new division today.

Capella Space

AWS revealed today that Capella Space is a customer under its new business segment that’s going “all-in” on the cloud provider.

The San Francisco information services company, which provides on-demand, high-resolution Earth observation imagery via satellite-based, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), is running its entire IT infrastructure on AWS to automate and scale its operations, including satellite command and control using AWS Ground Station.

“Our customers rely on us to deliver precision satellite imagery quickly,” Capella Space founder and CEO Payam Banazadeh said in a statement. “Running our ground infrastructure on AWS allows Capella and its customers to automate and scale operations across the globe in order to minimize latency and reactivity. We have optimized our operations to take advantage of improvements and innovations in cloud computing.”

Capella’s SAR satellites can see through clouds and darkness to collect millimeter-scale resolution imagery in all weather conditions, giving customers working in fields including defense and humanitarian assistance the ability to constantly monitor rapidly changing operating conditions. The company’s Earth observation solution communicates with AWS Ground Station antennas to give customers access to satellite data within minutes of its capture, which is cheaper and far quicker than traditional satellite data delivery services that can take as long as 24 hours, according to AWS.

“They will soon launch the world's largest commercial SAR satellite constellation,” Carlson said. “Unlike traditional optical satellites, Capella SAR satellite constellation sees through clouds in darkness, and when fully deployed, the satellite constellation will capture hourly coverage at every point on Earth. That's really important for use cases such as defense and intelligence monitoring, detection of illegal maritime activity activities and mapping natural disaster damage to deliver humanitarian aid.”

A Space Force Alum Takes The Lead

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier, the former director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s planning for the U.S. Space Force – formally established as an independent military branch of the U.S. Armed Forces in December under President Donald Trump – will lead the new business segment AWS’ aerospace and satellite director.

"We find ourselves in the most exciting time in space since the Apollo missions," Crosier said in a statement. "I have watched AWS transform the IT industry over the last 10 years and be instrumental in so many space milestones. I am honored to join AWS to continue to transform the industry and propel the space enterprise forward."

The 33-year military veteran comes with experience in intercontinental ballistic missile and space operations, including a deployment to the Middle East as the U.S. Central Command Director of Space Forces, according to his official Air Force biography.

Crosier has served in staff assignments with the U.S. Senate, the secretary of the Air Force's Action Group, the U.S. secretary of defense’s office, and the Air Force Space Command and Air Force Global Strike Command headquarters. His operational commands included the 2nd Space Launch Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) in California, the 50th Operations Group at Schriever AFB in Colorado and the 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB in Colorado.

Crosier also was the first director of the Air Force Warfighter Integration Capability, whose task was to examine the Air Force's warfighting portfolio and drive enterprise-wide solutions to complex issues.

AWS Aerospace And Satellite Partners/Customers

AWS counts Lockheed Martin, Iridium Communications and Maxar Technologies among its AWS Partner Network (APN) aerospace and satellite members, as well as customers.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, an aerospace and defense contractor, is an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner for AWS GovCloud (U.S.) regions. With the majority of its projects requiring more autonomous behaviors, it’s continuing to build its workforce’s skills in AI and ML with tools including AWS DeepRacer, which uses reinforcement learning, an advanced ML technique.

"With a background in cloud computing, it’s exciting to see Amazon Web Services extend that experience to space, fostering collaborations with Lockheed Martin to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems," Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said in a statement. "We share a vision to help our customers access data faster and gain new insights from sensors in space that make data even more accessible."

McLean, Va.-based Iridium Communications is an AWS technology partner that joined the APN in 2018. Iridium CloudConnect is a satellite cloud-based solution that offers global coverage for IoT applications using AWS.

Maxar Technologies, a space technology company based in Westminster, Colo., also is an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner that’s preparing to launch its new WorldView Legion, a next-generation, Earth-imaging constellation, next year. Maxar uses AWS Ground Station to downlink imagery and the AWS cloud storage and AI/ML services to store its 100-petabyte imagery library and extract data from them.

"This new AWS business will support Maxar as we launch our new WorldView Legion satellites next year, which will triple our 30-cm imagery collection and greatly increase our currency and scalability for government missions and commercial use cases,” Walter Scott, Maxar’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. "This division will also improve the space industry as a whole, allowing additional organizations to gain speed, agility and resiliency from the world’s leading cloud."

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