UPDATED 13:35 EDT / JUNE 30 2020

amazon CLOUD

AWS launches aerospace unit to target space sector opportunities

Amazon Web Services Inc. today said that it’s stepping up its push into the space sector by establishing a new Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business unit.

The unit will work with both government and private sector customers to assist with projects such as satellite launches. Job postings spotted by CNBC indicate that AWS will compete for a wide range of other deals as well. The Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary is reportedly looking to provide services to customers working on initiatives such as rocket launches, human spaceflight support, robotics and mission control operations, among others. 

“What’s clear is that when space is made accessible and cost-effective, there is no limit to what can be accomplished,” Teresa Carlson, the vice president of AWS’ worldwide public sector business, wrote in a blog post today, at the opening of today’s AWS Public Sector Summit Online. “AWS stands ready to help remove the limits of connecting space to Earth communications.”

Carlson also shared more details the unit’s focus areas, saying one priority will be to “launch new services that process space data on Earth and in orbit.” That suggests AWS may be planning to develop solutions that can be deployed directly in orbit. It already has some experience in this area, having worked with NASA to launch a video encoder to the International Space Station for an astronaut live stream.

Currently, AWS’ main offering for space customers is AWS Ground Station, a network of ground-based antennas (pictured) that can be used to send commands to satellites and download data such as images. The product’s appeal is that it’s more affordable for customers than building their own antenna network. AWS Ground Station is delivered under a pay-as-you-go pricing model similar to the Amazon cloud computing subsidiary’s other services.

“It was a customer of ours in the U.S. intelligence community that told us about six years ago we needed to create this,” Carlson detailed while discussing AWS Ground Station in a 2019 interview on theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio. “It was a customer that said, ‘Why doesn’t AWS have a ground station?’ and we really listened to them, worked backwards and then we launched Ground Station.”

In the two years since AWS debuted the service, parent Amazon.com Inc.’s space operations have grown considerably. It revealed Project Kuiper, an initiative through which it aims to put about 3,200 satellites in low-Earth orbit to deliver internet services. Project Kuiper reserved a new, larger facility last year after outgrowing its previous office. 

The move to create a dedicated space unit should enable AWS and, by extension Amazon, to provide better management of the continued growth of its aerospace operations as they expand in headcount and focus. AWS has appointed Retired Air Force Major General Clint Crosier, former director of Space Force Planning at the U.S. Space Force, to lead the unit.

The space sector presents sizable revenue opportunities for the cloud giant. As many as 46,000 or more satellites could be launched into orbit over the next few years, all of which will require terrestrial antennas like those offered by the Amazon subsidiary.

Moreover, at least some of the customers that adopt AWS Ground Station to download data from their satellites are likely to use additional AWS services to process that data. That creates yet more opportunities for product adoption. Case in point: The cloud giant today announced that satellite startup Capella Space Corp. will run its information technology deployment on its cloud.

Capella Space also employs AWS Ground Station in its operations. The service’s other customers include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, space imagery provider DigitalGlobe and nanosatellite operator Spire Global Inc., to name a few.

Image: Amazon

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