TheNFAPost Podcast

Bengaluru, NFAPost: Microsoft is taking the next giant leap in cloud computing – to space. In a pathbreaking move has made available Azure platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community and it is named Azure Space.

The tech giant move comes at a time when the space community is growing rapidly and innovation is lowering the barriers of access for public- and private-sector organisations. With Azure Space has ambition to make space connectivity and compute increasingly attainable across industries including agriculture, energy, telecommunications, and government.

Besides renowned space industry veterans, Azure Space has brought together a team of world-class product engineers and scientists to build cloud capabilities that meet the unique needs of space. Azure Soace innovation areas include simulating space missions, discovering insights from satellite data, and fueling innovation both on the ground and in orbit.

By partnering with leaders in the space community, Azure Space will extend the utility of Azure capabilities with worldwide satellite connectivity, unblock cloud computing in more scenarios, and empower our partners and customers to achieve more.

Satellite networking

As the importance of data to society has increased, so too has the importance of reliable and diverse pathways for connectivity.

The company’s global network of over 160,000 miles of subsea, terrestrial, and metro optical fiber helps billions of people connect all around the world.  However, many of the customers also operate in remote, rugged environments and find it hard to keep pace with their increased need for access to data and bandwidth.

The company announced that the partnership will provide exciting new networking capabilities as part of Azure Space ecosystem. A thriving ecosystem of satellite providers is needed to meet the world’s growing network needs, and Microsoft is excited to partner with industry leaders to bring these capabilities to customers faster.

  • Our new partnership with SpaceX Starlink will provide high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband for the new Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC)
  • Building on our existing Azure Orbital partnership with SES, we will support its O3B Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellation O3b MEO,  to extend connectivity between our cloud datacenter regions and cloud edge devices.
Satellite diagram

Azure Space approach is to supply a multi-orbit, multi-band, multi-vendor, cloud-enabled capability to bring comprehensive satellite connectivity solutions to meet the needs of customers.

Resilient satellite communications, coupled with Azure’s ability to provide high-performance computing, machine learning, and data analytics opens many new opportunities for both public- and private-sector organisations.

The partnership approach to satellite communication solutions helps Azure Space bring these capabilities to customers faster to help solve their mission-critical space needs.

These new connectivity partnerships bring more satellite capabilities alongside recently announced Azure Orbital ground station service and existing ExpressRoute satellite provider partnerships with SES, Intelsat and ViaSat to help bring valuable customer data from geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites directly into Azure.

To learn more about these partnerships and our approach to satellite connectivity, check out our Transform blog post: Azure Space partners bring deep expertise to new venture.

Self-contained datacentre  

A self-contained datacenter in a field

Many organisations are already taking advantage of cloud computing at the intelligent edge, with products like Azure Stack. We have made great leaps forward in piloting our datacenters in extreme environments, such as Project Natick underwater datacenter research project. Building on these insights and input from customers with the toughest mission requirements, the new Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC) takes this edge capability even further.

Microsoft designed the MDC to support high-intensity, secure cloud computing in challenging environments, such as situations where critical prerequisites like power and building infrastructure are unreliable. It is having Azure on your terms where you need it in a self-contained unit.

The MDC provides organisations with capability to deploy a complete datacenter to remote locations, or to augment existing infrastructure with a field-transportable solution. The MDC can run primarily on terrestrial fiber, low-bandwidth networks, or be completely disconnected.

The satellite connectivity add-on through SATCOM partnerships provides MDC customers with accessibility and resiliency of essential hyperscale services into Azure.

For more information about the Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenter, read announcement blog: Introducing the Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenter.

Space missions

As space missions and satellite capabilities become more accessible, Microsoft is developing reliable, repeatable digital technologies to help the space community launch faster and with mission assurance. The first of these is Azure Orbital Emulator.

Commercial and government space organisations are developing thousands of interconnected satellite constellations which require precise planning and sophisticated AI-driven formation protocols, to ensure optimal networking connectivity and operational coverage on-orbit.

Azure Orbital Emulator is an emulation environment that conducts massive satellite constellation simulations with software and hardware in the loop. This allows satellite developers to evaluate and train AI algorithms and satellite networking before ever launching a single satellite.

Azure can emulate an entire satellite network including complex, real-time scene generation using pre-collected satellite imagery for direct processing by virtualized and actual satellite hardware. Azure Orbital Emulator is already being used by customers in our Azure Government environment.

Continuing innovation

These new capabilities bring new opportunities to many organisations that already partner with Azure to innovate for space missions:

The US Defense and Innovation Unit (DIU) chose Microsoft and Ball Aerospace to create more actionable space data and re-imagine ground station technology and build a solution demonstrating agile cloud processing capabilities in support of the US Air Force’s Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations (CASINO) project.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor building Orion, has employed HoloLens 2 on a variety of assembly tasks for the spacecraft that will be used to support NASA’s Artemis program to carry humans to the Moon and beyond. Airbus uses Microsoft Azure Stack for agility, innovation, and competitive advantage to build and launch its aerospace solutions.

Seequent, an environmental geoscience companyuses satellite data and Azure computational power to drive its critically important work to address water quality and quantity around the world. Seequent’s software solutions are used on hundreds of projects to enable a clear view of groundwater and contaminants.

Land O’Lakes, one of the largest farmer-owned cooperativesuses Azure FarmBeats to take advantage of satellite imagery, along with data from sensors, drones and farm equipment to enable data-driven agriculture. AI models using optical and multispectral imagery from satellites helps determine crop stress, predict yields, and enable the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.

Our approach helps to address the some of the toughest technology challenges that our customers face in space: dealing with the vast amount of data generated from satellites, bringing cloud services and bandwidth to the most remote locations, and designing highly complex space systems. Coupled with ecosystem of partners than can help bring this data to ground faster, Microsoft Azure is making it easier to find insights and make connections that weren’t possible before.

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