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Microsoft teams up with SpaceX for cloud computing

Microsoft says it’s taking the next giant leap in cloud computing, in partnership with SpaceX and its Starlink broadband satellite constellation.

“By partnering with leaders in the space community, we will extend the utility of our Azure capabilities with worldwide satellite connectivity, unblock cloud computing in more scenarios and empower our partners and customers to achieve more,” Tom Keane, corporate vice president for Microsoft Azure Global, said in a blog post.

The partnership with SpaceX is just one of the big revelations in today’s unveiling of Microsoft’s Azure Space cloud computing platform.

Microsoft also took the wraps off the Azure Modular Datacenter, or MDC, a mobile, containerized data hub that contains its own networking equipment and is capable of connecting to the cloud via terrestrial fiber, wireless networks or satellite links.

“If you choose, you can run this device completely disconnected from the rest of the world,” Bill Karagounis, general manager for Azure Global Industry Sovereign Solutions, said in a video describing the data center.

Today’s announcement builds on Microsoft’s earlier rollout of Azure Orbital, a satellite data processing platform that provides ground-station communications as a service. Azure Orbital, which is currently available in private preview, will become part of the wider Azure Space ecosystem.

The developments put Microsoft in the forefront of space-based cloud computing, alongside Amazon Web Services and its recently formed Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business unit. They’re also likely to turn cloud computing into yet another battleground for the multibillion-dollar rivalry between SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who founded the Blue Origin space venture.

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Microsoft launches into cloud space race with Amazon

Call it the Clash of the Cloud Titans: Today Microsoft is taking the wraps off Azure Orbital, a cloud-based satellite data processing platform that competes with Amazon Web Services’ Ground Station offering.

The launch of Azure Orbital, timed for this week’s Microsoft Ignite conference for developers, can be taken as another sign that the final frontier is the next frontier for cloud computing.

“Essentially, we’re building a ‘ground station as a service,’ ” Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer at Microsoft Azure, told GeekWire in advance of today’s unveiling.

“Satellites are becoming more and more important for a variety of reasons,” he said. “When it comes to cloud and data processing, obviously the cloud is a key part of any solution that goes into leveraging satellites, whether it’s imaging for weather, or natural disasters or ground communications.”

Like AWS Ground Station, Azure Orbital makes it possible for satellite operators to control their spacecraft via the cloud, or integrate satellite data with cloud-based storage and processing.

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AWS creates a space force for cloud computing

Amazon Web Services today unveiled a new business unit devoted to developing data infrastructure and cloud services for the aerospace and satellite industry — and headed by someone who helped set up the U.S. Space Force.

The Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business segment will be headed by retired Air Force Major Gen. Clint Crosier, former director of Space Force Planning.

“We find ourselves in the most exciting time in space since the Apollo missions,” Crosier said in today’s announcement from Amazon. “I have watched AWS transform the IT industry over the last 10 years and be instrumental in so many space milestones. I am honored to join AWS to continue to transform the industry and propel the space enterprise forward.”

The unveiling was announced by Teresa Carlson at the AWS Public Sector Summit Online. “Whether on Earth or in space, AWS is committed to understanding our customers’ missions,” she said.

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D-Wave launches Leap 2 quantum cloud service

D-Wave Leap 2 screenshot
D-Wave Systems is unveiling its Leap 2 quantum cloud computing service. (D-Wave Graphic)

What comes after a quantum leap? For Burnaby, B.C.-based D-Wave Systems, it’s Leap 2, the latest iteration of its cloud-based quantum computing service.

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Microsoft CEO touts quantum computing platform

Satya Nadella at Ignite
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces the company’s new initiatives in quantum computing at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. (Microsoft Video)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today took the wraps off Azure Quantum, a full-stack, cloud-based approach to quantum computing that he said would play well with traditional computational architectures.

“With all the capacity we have around computing, we still have many unsolved problems, whether it’s around food safety, or climate change, or the energy transition,” Nadella said at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. “These are big challenges that need more computing. We need general-purpose quantum.”

While classical computers deal in binary bits of ones and zeroes, quantum computers can take advantage of spooky physics to process quantum bits — or qubits — that can represent multiple values simultaneously.

For years, Microsoft and its rivals have been laying the groundwork for general-purpose quantum computing hardware and software. Microsoft has previously announced some elements of its strategy, including its Q# programming language and Quantum Development Kit, but today Nadella put all the pieces together.

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Video from space processed in the cloud

Space station twirl
Astronaut Andrew Morgan does a zero-gravity flip on the International Space Station with a push from his two NASA crewmates, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. (NASA via YouTube)

Amazon Web Services and NASA have demonstrated how cloud-based video processing can distribute live streams from space, with a shout-out from the International Space Station.

The demonstration took center stage today in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, or SMPTE.

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Lockheed Martin looks into clouds of satellites

Satellite swarm
NASA and Lockheed Martin have been studying how small satellites could be knit together into a distributed swarm. (NASA Illustration)

More and more computing is being done in the cloud, but so far, the cloud-based approach hasn’t been applied in space.

Lockheed Martin is thinking about changing that.

The aerospace giant has already registered two trademarks for satellite cloud systems — HiveStar and SpaceCloud — and it’s considering how the approach can be applied to a range of space missions.

Yvonne Hodge, vice president and chief information officer at Colorado-based Lockheed Martin Space, lifted the curtain on the HiveStar project last week at Amazon’s re:MARS conference in Las Vegas.

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AWS Ground Station is open for business

AWS Ground Station currently makes use of two satellite ground stations and plans to add 10 more later this year. (AWS Photo)

Six months after a sneak preview, Amazon Web Services has just raised the curtain on AWS Ground Station, its cloud-based system for controlling satellites and downloading satellite data.

AWS says the service is now generally available, with two ground station installations already hooked into the system and 10 more due to be added later this year.

The software platform makes it easy to connect with satellites, upload commands and bring the data down into AWS Global Infrastructure Regions. From there, the data can make its way through AWS’ ecosystem for storage, analytics and machine learning services — or go wherever a user wants to take it.

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LeoStella will build SpaceBelt cloud satellites

SpaceBelt satellites
The SpaceBelt data storage constellation takes advantage of a ring of satellites in low Earth orbit as well as geostationary satellites in higher orbits. (Cloud Constellation Illustration)

Cloud Constellation Corp. has chosen LeoStella, the U.S.-European joint venture based in Tukwila, Wash., to build satellites for its cloud-based data storage service.

The satellite constellation, known as SpaceBelt, is scheduled to go into operation in late 2021. It’s designed to give customers a secure place in space to park sensitive data, accessible only through Cloud Constellation’s telecommunications links.

“It’s basically the cloud transformation of space,” chief commercial officer Dennis Gatens told GeekWire in advance of today’s announcement.

The SpaceBelt concept calls for putting 10 satellites in equatorial low Earth orbit (or LEO), at an altitude of about 400 miles (650 to 700 kilometers), with third-party satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) providing the connections to Cloud Constellation’s proprietary data terminals on the ground. Such a system combines the accessibility of GEO satellites with the low cost of LEO satellites.

Cloud Constellation CEO Cliff Beek said that LeoStella, a joint venture created last year by Europe’s Thales Alenia Space and Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, was chosen not only because its pricing was “very competitive,” but also because it promised to deliver all 10 satellites in 24 months.

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Lockheed Martin has its head in the space cloud

Cloud computing in space
Satellites could extend cloud computing to the final frontier. (Lockheed Martin Illustration)

Is the final frontier the next frontier for cloud computing?

One of the presentations planned for Amazon’s re:MARS conference in June suggests that Lockheed Martin is putting serious thought into the idea of space-based cloud services. The presentation, titled “Solving Earth’s Biggest Problems With a Cloud in Space,” features Yvonne Hodge, vice president and chief information officer at Lockheed Martin Space.

Just because an executive is talking about the subject doesn’t necessarily mean the aerospace giant has a plan in the works. But the concept would fit in nicely with Lockheed Martin’s previously announced partnership with Amazon on AWS Ground Station, a cloud-based satellite communications and control service.

It’s also worth noting that Amazon unveiled plans this month for a 3,236-satellite constellation, code-named Project Kuiper, which would make broadband internet access available to the estimated 4 billion people around the world who are currently underserved.

Extending cloud networks into space would provide yet another boost for global commerce, and potentially for global welfare as well.

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