Azure Space – cloud-powered innovation on and off the planet

Planet Earth from space

Today, Microsoft is taking the next giant leap in cloud computing – to space. I am excited to share the work we are doing to make Azure the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community with Azure Space. The space community is growing rapidly and innovation is lowering the barriers of access for public- and private-sector organizations. With Azure Space we have ambition to make space connectivity and compute increasingly attainable across industries including agriculture, energy, telecommunications, and government.

We have brought together a team of renowned space industry veterans to work alongside our world-class product engineers and scientists to build cloud capabilities that meet the unique needs of space. Our 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, we will extend the utility of our Azure capabilities with worldwide satellite connectivity, unblock cloud computing in more scenarios, and empower our partners and customers to achieve more.

Fast, secure satellite networking anywhere in the world

As the importance of data to society has increased, so too has the importance of reliable and diverse pathways for connectivity. Our 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 our customers also operate in remote, rugged environments and find it hard to keep pace with their increased need for access to data and bandwidth.

Today, we are announcing partnerships which will provide exciting new networking capabilities as part of our Azure Space ecosystem. A thriving ecosystem of satellite providers is needed to meet the world’s growing network needs, and we are excited to partner with industry leaders to bring these capabilities to our 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

Our 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 our 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 organizations.

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

These new connectivity partnerships bring more satellite capabilities alongside our 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.

A self-contained datacenter for the most challenging missions  

A self-contained datacenter in a field

Many organizations 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 our Project Natick underwater datacenter research project. Building on these insights and input from our 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 organizations 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 our 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 our announcement blog: Introducing the Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenter.

Preparing for space missions with the power of Azure

As space missions and satellite capabilities become more accessible, we are 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 organizations 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 to innovate alongside the space community

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

The U.S 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 U.S. 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 company, uses 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 cooperatives, uses 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.

One giant leap…

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 our ecosystem of partners than can help bring this data to ground faster, we’re making it easier to find insights and make connections that weren’t possible before.

We are ready to support customers on their space missions off and on the planet, and to use the power of cloud and space technology to help business across industries re-imagine solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems.


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