Amazon is launching cloud service to capture data from satellites

Amazon‘s cloud business is launching a satellite connection service, marking the company’s first public move into space-related hardware and a continuation of its efforts to support the growing industry.

The company’s AWS Ground Station unit is building a network of satellite facilities around the world, according to Spire Global, a company which builds and operates small satellites. Spire announced Tuesday it is partnering with Amazon Web Services on the new venture. AWS Ground Station will augment the more than 30 ground stations Spire has already built across the globe, the company said. A ground station is is the vital link for transmitting data to-and-from satellites in orbit.

“Spire is one of the first companies in the space services market to leverage the newly launched
AWS Ground Station,” Shayn Hawthorne, general manager of the AWS service, said in a statement.

Spire has more than 60 “cubesat” sized satellites in orbit. The company’s satellites have multiple sensor on board, which track ships and airplanes, as well as gather atmospheric data to forecast weather. Spire describes itself as an analytics company, as a variety of industries use Spire’s data, ranging from hedge funds to earth scientists to shipping businesses.

Amazon’s facilities will be built on the infrastructure from dozens of AWS data centers located around the world, Spire CEO Peter Platzer told CNBC.

“This offering that they’re doing is just an extension” of AWS, Platzer said. “Spire has built one of the world’s largest ground station networks … and now imagine that Amazon does all of that and the only thing that Spire does is rents capacity on the ground station.”

Platzer did not know “the exact number” of AWS Ground Station facilities built so far. Platzer estimated that Amazon’s existing data center infrastructure will allow the service to expand rapidly.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years they have hundreds of ground stations around the world,” Platzer said.

AWS Ground Station would remove the heavy capital costs of building ground station networks off of satellite operators like Spire, according to Platzer. Companies like Spire would instead pay operational costs, to “rent capacity as our needs arise,” Platzer said.

“The same way we rent compute capacity on Amazon due to need, we will now be able to rent ground station capacity to suck data from our satellites on demand as we need it,” Platzer said.

AWS announced a partnership with Iridium Communications in September, to develop a satellite-based network called CloudConnect for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Iridium expects CloudConnect to launch in 2019, catering initially to the agricultural and shipping industries.

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