Microsoft announces Azure Orbital for satellite customers

Get a free Techzine subscription!

New “Ground Station as a Service” (GSaaS) is designed to compete with Amazon Web Services. Companies with satellites can use Microsoft’s ground stations to connect to their satellites.

Microsoft used Ignite 2020 as the stage to debut Azure Orbital, a service which helps satellite sector customers retrieve and process their satellite data seamlessly within Microsoft’s antenna-data center ecosystem.

Microsoft has built the service around massive antennas, or ground stations, colocated with the company’s global network of data centers. These ground stations take the large amounts of data received from the customer’s satellites and hand them off for processing through the Azure platform. This enables seamless application and use of Azure services such as compute, storage, AI and data analytics for fast data processing. The system also leverages the Azure global infrastructure and low-latency global fiber network.

This new service puts Microsoft in competition with Amazon’s AWS Ground Station. Both tech giants now offer downlink data reception, storage and processing capability for satellites and spacecraft in earth orbit.

Ground Station as a Service

Microsoft is selling Azure Orbital as a fully managed Ground Station as a Service (GSaaS). This enables customers to communicate, downlink, & process data from their satellites/spacecrafts on as a “pay-as-you go” basis. Companies no longer need to build their own satellite ground stations.

Microsoft has designed the Azure Orbital system for maximum flexibility and allow customers to focus on the mission and product data. This is done by off-loading the responsibility of deployment and maintenance of ground station assets.

The “as a service” aspect of the offering reflects the rapid growth of the space sector. Ashish Jain, an Azure Networking lead project manager, explained the economics driving this new market opportunity. “Five years back, this cost used to be about $50,000 to send one kilogram to space,” he said at Microsoft’s virtual Ignite session. “The cost has now come down 20 times to about $2,000 to $3,000 per kilogram.”

A world-spanning orbital ecosystem

Microsoft’s Azure Network is more than just the ground stations and data centers. Customers can take advantage of Azure’s extensive Partner ecosystem. The partner network includes companies like KSAT, ViaSat Real-time Earth (RTE) and US Electrodynamics Inc. The Azure Orbital partnership also includes satcom telecom providers like SES and other ground station/teleport providers.

Microsoft is marketing Azure Orbital to customers in the Earth Observation and Global Communications sectors. The service currently in preview.