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Microsoft Debuts Ground Station Solution Azure Orbital with Satellite Partners

By Rachel Jewett | September 22, 2020

Photo: SES

Microsoft is getting into the satellite ground station business with Azure Orbital. Microsoft on Tuesday announced a preview of the offering, a ground station service that allows satellite operators to communicate to and control their satellites, process data, and scale operations directly with Microsoft Azure. 

Microsoft is building its own ground stations, and also partnering with satellite companies Amergint, Kratos Defense, KSAT, Viasat, and US Electrodynamics Inc. as partner ground stations. Kratos and Amergint are partners for software processing capability. Microsoft also has a partnership with SES that allows SES to build and sell managed services using Orbital, and Kubos is bringing mission control capabilities to Azure.   

“Azure Orbital is a fully managed, cloud-based, Ground-Station-as-a-Service that enables you to communicate to your satellites, downlink or uplink data, and process it, and thereby scale operations,” Ashish Jain, Azure Networking principal product manager said in a video announcement as part of Microsoft Ignite. 

Microsoft said Azure Orbital enables satellite operators to schedule contacts with their spacecraft and downlink data into their virtual network in Azure. Azure Orbital on-ramps data directly into Azure, where it can be processed with data analytics, geospatial tools, machine learning, and Azure Artificial Intelligence (AI) services. Contact scheduling will be available for Microsoft owned and operated ground stations in X-, S-, and UHF-band frequencies via shared high gain antennas. 

This development puts Microsoft Azure directly in competition with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which launched AWS Ground Station, a managed network of ground station antennas around the world for satellite owners and operators, in 2019. In June, AWS also debuted a new business segment dedicated to serving the aerospace and satellite industry, AWS Aerospace and Satellite Solutions. 

SES will use Microsoft Azure to collocate the ground stations for the O3b mPOWER communication system. SES and Microsoft will make joint investments in Azure Orbital ground stations that SES will deploy and manage ground stations for the Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Earth Observation (EO) segments. The first MEO and Earth Observation gateways will be located in Phoenix, Arizona, and Quincy, Washington, SES announced. This builds on the satellite operator’s deal with Microsoft last year

“This partnership leverages both companies’ know-how — SES’s experience in satellite infrastructure and Microsoft’s cloud expertise — and is building blocks in developing new and innovative solutions for the future,” commented SES Networks CEO JP Hemingway. “We are thrilled that we will be co-locating, deploying and operating our next-generation O3b mPOWER gateways alongside Microsoft’s data centers. This one-hop connectivity to the cloud from remote sites will enable our MEO customers to enhance their cloud application performance, optimize business operations with much flexibility and agility needed to expand new markets.”

Editor’s note: A press release misstated the location of SES’s Quincy gateway. This story has been updated to reflect the correct location.