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Cloud computing speeds up Pentagon’s satellite data flow

How will Pentagon planners cope with the torrents of data that are expected to rain down from a constellation of satellites monitoring hotspots from low Earth orbit?

Microsoft and Ball Aerospace say they’ve demonstrated that the cloud can handle it — and not just handle it, but process multiple streams of satellite data five times faster than the Pentagon’s target speed.

The demonstration of a prototype system was conducted this year for the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit in support of the Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations Program Office, or CASINO, which is under the aegis of the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

For the purposes of the test, Telesat provided access to its satellite network in low Earth orbit. Ball Aerospace provided the event-driven architecture for dealing with the data beamed down from space. And Microsoft Azure provided the cloud-computing firepower for processing the data and pulling out insights.

Telesat’s satellite sent down as many as 20 separate streams of simulated Overhead Persistent Infrared sensor readings, also known as OPIR. Such data streams could be crucial for detecting and countering missile threats — but processing the flood of data is no easy task.

“What this prototype did was prove out that low Earth orbit is a viable capability for the Space Force, working with the cloud. Against the program goals that the DIU set, the ground processing with space data is about five times faster with the Azure cloud,” Tom Keane, corporate vice president for Azure Global, told GeekWire.

“We think it’s a pretty big deal,” Keane said.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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