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How AWS Ground Station Service Is Driving Future Space Mission

Shayn Hawthorne - AWS

Whether you are waiting with bated breath for a spacecraft to land on the moon’s surface, or watching live videos being demonstrated from the space, there’s always an underlying technology that provides communications between the ground and the satellites. In recent years, the space industry has witnessed a massive transformation globally. India’s spending on space research has also tripled in less than a decade, with new space and satellite communication technologies expected to help the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) realize the dream of piloting deep space missions, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan to send a manned mission to space by 2022.

One of the most enthusiastic involvements in satellite communication technologies is seen from tech titan Amazon’s Cloud arm Amazon Web Services (AWS). In May last year, AWS announced a fully managed service – AWS Ground Station – that lets space scientists control satellite communications, process data, and scale satellite operations. In an interaction with CXOToday, Shayn Hawthorne, General Manager – AWS Ground Station Service, explains how AWS Ground Station can help customers save up to 80% on the cost of ground station operations and why India is an exciting market for the company. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

CXOToday: What prompted AWS to announce AWS Ground Station, and what was the response from the customers using it?

Shayn Hawthorne: We realized that Satellites are being used by more and more businesses, universities, and governments for a variety of applications, including weather forecasting, surface imaging, and communications. To do so, customers must build or lease ground antennas to communicate with the satellites. This is a significant undertaking and cost because customers often require antennas in multiple countries to download data when and where they need it without waiting for the satellite to pass over a desired location.

Customers also need servers, storage, and networking in close proximity to the antenna to process, store, and transport the data from the satellite. And then customers must build business rules and workflows to organize, structure, and route the data to employees or customers before it can be used to deliver insight. All of this requires significant capital investments and operational costs to build, manage, and maintain antennas, compute infrastructure, and business logic at each antenna location.

CXOToday: ‘Ground Station as a service’ is a new concept. What are the key features and benefits of ground Station as a Service?

Shayn Hawthorne: AWS Ground Station allows customers to more easily and cost-effectively control satellite operations, ingest satellite data, and integrate the data with applications and other cloud services running in AWS. The objective of AWS Ground Station is to drive down the expense of space communications, with cost savings in some cases amounting to as much as 80%. With AWS Ground Station businesses can pay for antenna access and scale as demand requires.

We are also working to make ground stations simple and easy to use so that more organizations can derive insights from satellite data to help improve life on Earth and embark on deeper exploration and discovery in space. Customers can rely on AWS Ground Station’s global footprint to downlink data when and where they need it, quickly transport that data around the world, and build new applications faster based on readily available satellite data, without having to buy, lease and maintain complex and expensive infrastructure. The company plans to deploy 12 AWS Ground Stations around the world in the coming years.

CXOToday: What according to you is the potential utility of AWS Ground Station in the Indian subcontinent?

Shayn Hawthorne: AWS Ground Station is designed to deal with the growing flood of data for geospatial applications, ranging from weather to maritime traffic to urban planning to crop assessment to disaster response. AWS Ground Station can enable India to collect data over the subcontinent and then download it in other ground stations to provide that data back to Indian consumers as rapidly as possible.

AWS Ground Station antennas in India could even enable real time collection, tasking and down linking of optical, radar and weather data from antennas in India. Increased access to satellite data at lower cost and with more continual coverage can also help equip mainland India and Indian islands with support for forecasting disasters, emergency response and rescue, and natural resource updates needed to monitor security, agriculture, and climate change.

CXOToday: Going forward, how do you plan to expand the service globally and in the Indian market?

Shayn Hawthorne: We announced general availability of AWS Ground Station last May, and now have two ground station installations in place and 10 more due to be added by this year end. AWS Ground Station’s objective to drive down the cost of space communications and help customers to process and share their satellite data using AWS services is resonating with both large, established satellite operators such as Maxar Technologies and Spire, as well as with innovative start-ups, such as Capella Space, D-Orbit, Myriota, NSLComm, and Open Cosmos globally.

We’re also seeing positive reactions from companies representing a wide array of industries who rely heavily upon satellite data to do things like predict weather patterns and track movement of ships, trucks, and planes in support of their logistics.

Today AWS Ground Station is available via Amazon Web Services’ US East (Ohio) and US West (Oregon) antenna installations. Because AWS Ground Station antennas are located in close proximity to AWS Regions, customers have low-latency, local access to other AWS services to process and store data. In the next 10 years, we envision building hundreds of antennas in the Americas, the European Union, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia — expanding to the “equivalent” of hundreds of parabolic antennas to provide communication services to more and more satellites.

We see a lot of exciting possibilities in the India market as more satellites are being used by more and more businesses, universities and governments for a variety of applications. We have several companies with which we cross-pollinate in space research and we are keen to do the same with the Indian space startups.

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