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Mircosoft Azure Exec Confirms Slew of New Partnerships with SES, SpaceX, and Others

By Jeffrey Hill | September 14, 2022

Photo by SES

Microsoft EVP of Strategic Missions and Technologies Jason Zander confirmed in a blog post published Wednesday that the software giant will team up with SES, SpaceX, Pixxel, Muon Space, and Loft Orbital to expand and enhance the services of its two-year-old space platform, Azure Space.

Satellite operator SES confirmed the expansion of its existing partnership with Microsoft and said the two companies have launched new initiative called the Satellite Communications Virtualization Program, which will create a fully virtualized satellite communications ground network supporting a variety of hardware, virtual network functions, and edge cloud applications.

The operator explained that the new program would provide a variety of benefits to the industry, including: an accelerated adoption of standards so that updates can be done remotely; increased agility for services such as network slicing; and new virtual network functions (VNFs) and edge cloud applications can be introduced quickly to customers.

SES and Microsoft said they would issue a request for proposal in Q4 2022 for the first cohort of program participants.

“For some years now, networks in the telco terrestrial world have been leveraging virtualisation and cloud-native architectural templates to maximize flexibility, programmability, automation, delivering true customer value,” SES Chief Strategy and Product Officer John-Paul Hemingway said in a statement. “We are excited to work with Microsoft to spearhead this approach in the satellite communications world. This will promote standardized hardware and additional flexibility to add new services and capabilities at the customer edge via simple software updates – a gamechanger for the industry.”

The Satellite Communications Virtualization Program extends the long-term partnership between SES and Microsoft that aims to deploy O3b and O3b mPOWER at Azure Network locations for network resiliency.

Microsoft’s Zander also confirmed that the company was launching a preview of Azure Orbital Cloud Access for its government customers that will deliver prioritized network traffic through SpaceX’s Starlink constellation and Azure edge devices.

SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell hinted that her company would eventually like to expand this preview to commercial and enterprise customers.  “Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency global connectivity in conjunction with Azure infrastructure will enable users to access fiber-like cloud computing access anywhere, anytime. We’re excited to offer this solution to both the public and the private sector,” said Shotwell.

Zander outlined an emergency response use case of Microsoft working through Starlink:

“In collaboration with Microsoft, the National Interagency Fire Center conducted a test of Azure Orbital Cloud Access capabilities integrated with SpaceX’s Starlink LEO satellite constellation. The goal of this test was to enable wildland firefighters’ connectivity to Microsoft Azure services in remote locations to provide uninterrupted support for firefighting operations and coordination.

This demonstration enabled access to FireNet (a cloud-based application for collaboration and management of wildfires using Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint) and remote access to wildfire data to share key insights to decision-makers in a secure and rapid manner. Through Azure Orbital Cloud Access, we achieved resilient communications and failover capabilities with intelligent prioritized traffic through cellular, fiber, or satellite.”

Working with its partner KSAT, Microsoft is also teaming up with space data company Pixxel to mine insights from its satellite data in the cloud.

“Microsoft’s integration with KSAT’s extensive network around the world enables Pixxel to stream their data directly to the Azure Cloud with zero data backhaul costs, and then further process it using Azure’s AI/ML services to generate customer business insights,” said Zander.

Zander also provided an update to Microsoft’s previously announced a strategic partnership with Loft Orbital for an on-orbit compute system to develop, test, and validate software applications for space systems in Microsoft Azure, and then deploy them to satellites in orbit using Loft’s space infrastructure tools and platforms.

“The first Azure-enabled Loft satellite will be launching next year and will be available for governments and companies to seamlessly deploy their software applications onto space hardware within the Azure environment,” said Zander. “Today marks the next step of our partnership. Alongside the launch of Azure Orbital Ground Station, Loft Orbital and Microsoft will support end-to-end customer missions as a service. Working with Microsoft, KSAT demonstrated how an existing customer, Loft Orbital, can test and onboard to Azure Orbital Ground Station and benefit from Microsoft and KSAT ground stations to support their specific mission needs.”

Finally, Microsoft said its sustainability product team was partnering with Muon Space to develop products targeting enterprise Environment Social Governance (ESG) analytics derived from their Earth Systems data.

“Many of these use cases are unlocked by global coverage and rapid cadence of observations. Azure Orbital Ground Station will support Muon’s coverage needs and operation by increasing the number of ground locations to ensure multiple contact opportunities on every orbit,” said Zander.