Amazon Hits the Ground Running
Jeff Bezos has certainly created a fair share of satellite industry buzz with Blue Origin. But now, the Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is looking to add a ground game to his space portfolio with the roll out of a new Amazon Web Service (AWS) platform.
Late last year, Amazon announced its new AWS Ground Station program, which shows a willingness to provide a new set of services to a new chunk of the commercial satellite supply chain. Through its integration, AWS Ground Station will give customers the ability to download data from multiple satellites at the same time and to continue downloading data even when unplanned outages like a weather event impact parts of the network. Senior Manager Shayn Hawthorne is Amazon’s project leader for AWS Ground Station. Speaking with Via Satellite, Hawthorne describes Ground Station as a “game-changer” for the industry; the world’s first fully managed ground station as a service, which will make things easier for satellite operators to get their data back on Earth.
VIA SATELLITE: Considering that Amazon changed the shopping experience for consumers, how does AWS plan to enhance experiences for Ground Station customers? What is your company’s overall vision?
Hawthorne: Amazon’s vision is to democratize access to satellites and the enormous amounts of increasingly important data they’re collecting. Substantial investments are required to build the ground stations needed to uplink and downlink satellite data. With AWS Ground Station, customers that have not traditionally had the financial resources to build and operate their own satellite infrastructure will be able to access satellite services on-demand. AWS Ground Station also wants to provide satellite customers with an easier and more cost-effective operational experience, complete with analytical data that can be integrated with applications and other cloud services running in AWS. For customers requiring faster access to increasing amounts of satellite data, Ground Station as a [cloud-based] service simply cost less than building your own ground station network.
VIA SATELLITE: The space segment of our industry, in particular, the operators, have been waiting for dramatic cost-savings on the ground. Do you feel that AWS Ground Station can fulfil that need?
Hawthorne: With AWS and AWS Ground Station, customers can get timely data sooner, rapidly experiment with new applications, and deliver products to market faster without buying, leasing, or maintaining complex and expensive infrastructure. Customers can save up to 80 percent of their ground station costs by paying for antenna access time on demand, and, they can rely on AWS Ground Station’s global footprint of ground stations to downlink data when and where they need it.
VIA SATELLITE: What has been your approach in terms of growing a community of data-hungry satellite industry customers?
Hawthorne: With satellites and satellite data being used by more and more businesses, universities, and governments for a variety of applications, including weather forecasting, surface imaging, and communications, demand has easily outpaced supply. Our customer roster already includes DigitalGlobe, BlackSky, and Spire. DigitalGlobe is already using AWS Ground Station to augment the capabilities of its global network of ground station antennas and to optimize the interval from planning to image collection, downlink, and analysis. Another of the new breed of satellite companies, BlackSky, a global monitoring and alerting services company, is also working with us to incorporate AWS Ground Station into the BlackSky ground architecture to provide growth and scalability and to enhance BlackSky’s ability to deliver a higher level of service to its customers. Spire Global is looking to AWS Ground Station for support to quick, on-the-fly scaling of the Spire ground station network.
VIA SATELLITE: AWS has a lot of high-level national security and military clientele. Will AWS Ground Station customers receive the same level of security?
Hawthorne: Network protection is a top priority for AWS. Ground Station customers will enjoy the same level of security and vigilance, and inherit all the best practices of AWS policies, architecture, and operational processes built to satisfy the requirements of our most security sensitive customers. AWS Ground Station features the same security isolations as would be found in any AWS data center. We manage and control the components from the host operating system and virtualization layer down to the physical security of the facilities in which the services operate. Our customers are responsible for building secure applications. AWS provides a wide variety of best practices documents, encryption tools, and other guidance our customers can leverage in delivering application-level security measures.
VIA SATELLITE: What are some of the more unexpected value-added services or capabilities that you’re offering?
Hawthorne: AWS’s Ground Station can play a role in quickly delivering news to people. For example, as fast-moving environmental, geopolitical, or news events unfold on the ground, AWS Ground Station customers can downlink current data to any of the 12 AWS ground stations around the world, and quickly combine the data with other AWS services to process, store, analyze, and transport the data to keep up with rapidly evolving conditions. With this new service, AWS will provide ground antennas through its existing network of worldwide availability zones and data processing services to simplify the entire data retrieval and processing workflows for satellite companies and organizations that rely on satellite data.
VIA SATELLITE: That sounds like a big project. Do you have any partners in the ground antennas space?
Hawthorne: Yes. We are working with satellite industry partners. Lockheed Martin will integrate AWS Ground Station with its new Verge antenna network. Verge [a loose abbreviation for ‘Virtual Resilient Ground’] is a network of low-cost ground antennas that can communicate with the increasing number of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites being launched into orbit for multiple applications. Additionally, we announced a partnership with Iridium Communications last year to develop a satellite-based network called Cloud Connect for Internet of Things (IOT) applications. Iridium expects Cloud Connect to launch this year, initially focused on agricultural and shipping industries.
VIA SATELLITE: Where will the antennas be located?
Hawthorne: Many AWS Ground Station antennas will be located in close proximity to AWS Regions, which will aim to provide customers with low-latency, local access to other AWS services to process and store data seconds after being downlinked. We are also selling satellite uplink and downlink communications by the minute with no upfront costs and immediate data processing from satellites using AWS’ EC2 compute service. [We can] store that data in S3 storage service, and then use AWS analytics services to analyze the data.
Amazon believes that Ground Station will allow the commercial space community to more freely innovate and change how their satellites communicate with the cloud. Hawthorne is taking this message directly to the industry with an appearance on SATELLITE 2019’s day-one opening general session, sitting alongside both partners and future competitors. Hawthorne hopes the simplicity of the message stands out — “We are excited to see what our customers do next.” VS