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Microsoft strengthens ties with final frontier pioneers

Microsoft doesn’t build rockets. It doesn’t build satellites, and it doesn’t have a launch pad. So what does Microsoft’s Azure Space business unit do?

“Azure Space is about bringing cloud computing and space technologies together with a partner ecosystem,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me.

From the beginning, partnerships have been “a foundational part of our approach to space,” Kitay said. So, two years after launching its space-centric cloud computing service, Microsoft is taking a new step to deepen those partnerships by establishing the Azure Space Partner Community.

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Old satellites could get a new lease on life via the cloud

What do you do with an aging weather satellite? If you’re the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, you turn to Microsoft Azure and a Seattle-area startup called Xplore to find out if there’s a cheaper way to keep it going.

After a yearlong demonstration project, the three partners determined that there is a way, thanks to cloud computing and cloud-based mission control software.

“Our work with NOAA and Xplore is driving innovation to virtualize satellite ground station operations in the cloud,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me. “And this is empowering agencies to tap into the newest commercial technologies and unlock new levels of resiliency and global capacity for critical mission operations.”

The demonstration — conducted under the terms of a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA for short — showed that cloud-based services could provide satellite mission management for one of NOAA’s legacy satellites, NOAA-18, in a way that met NOAA’s specifications.

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Another record for calculating pi: 100 trillion digits!

Three years after Seattle software developer Emma Haruka Iwao and her teammates at Google set the world record for calculating pi precisely, they’ve done it again. Thanks to Iwao and Google Cloud, we now know what pi equals to an incredible precision of 100 trillion digits.

Why pi?

Mathematicians have been working out the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter for millennia, going back at least as far as the Babylonians (who figured it at 3.125). It’s important for scientists and engineers to know the irrational number’s value with a high degree of precision, but beyond a certain point, it’s really all about showing how well an algorithm or a computer network can handle more practical problems.

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How using the cloud can rev up the search for asteroids

Astronomers have used a cloud-based technique pioneered at the University of Washington to identify and track asteroids in bunches of a hundred or more. Their achievement could dramatically accelerate the quest to find potentially threatening space rocks.

The technique makes use of an open-source analysis platform known as Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping, or ADAM; plus a recently developed algorithm called Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery, or THOR. The THOR algorithm was created by Joachim Moeyens, an Asteroid Institute Fellow at UW; and Mario Juric, director of UW’s DiRAC Institute.

Teaming up ADAM and THOR may sound like a cross between a Bible story and a Marvel comic, but this dynamic duo’s superpower is strictly scientific: When ADAM runs the THOR algorithm, the software can determine the orbits of asteroids, even previously unidentified asteroids, by sifting through any large database of astronomical observations.

ADAM has been a long-term project for the Asteroid Institute, a program of the California-based B612 Foundation.

“Discovering and tracking asteroids is crucial to understanding our solar system, enabling development of space, and protecting our planet from asteroid impacts,” former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, the Asteroid Institute’s executive director, said today in a news release. “With THOR running on ADAM, any telescope with an archive can now become an asteroid search telescope.”

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Space startups get a cloud-based boost from Amazon

For the 10 startups participating this year in Amazon Web Services’ Space Accelerator program, the sky is not the limit.

One company is building the next generation of ultra-high-resolution satellites for Earth observation. Another startup is developing electric propulsion systems for spacecraft and satellites in low Earth orbit. And yet another venture is working on a new type of space capsule that could someday carry cargo and crew to the moon.

“This year’s finalists brought forward pioneering ideas that will draw valuable insights from the depths of the ocean floor to the surface of the moon, and nearly everything in between,” Clint Crosier, director of AWS for Aerospace and Satellite Solutions, said today in a blog post.

Today’s announcement about the Class of 2022 follows up on last year’s inaugural Space Accelerator program. Hundreds of startups applied to take part in the program’s second year, and AWS worked with the AlchemistX accelerator management program to select these 10 finalists.

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Boeing hires three giants to build its billion-dollar cloud

The billion-dollar competition to provide Boeing with cloud computing services is finished, and the winner is … a three-way split. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft are all getting a share of the business, Boeing announced today.

In a LinkedIn post, Susan Doniz, Boeing’s chief information officer and senior VP for information technology and data analytics, called it a “multi-cloud partnership.”

“This represents a significant investment in the digital tools that will empower Boeing’s next 100 years,” she wrote. “These partnerships strengthen our ability to test a system — or an aircraft — hundreds of times using digital twin technology before it is deployed.”

Doniz said that becoming more cloud-centric will provide Boeing with “global scalability and elasticity without having to predict, procure, maintain and pay for on-premises servers.” Financial details relating to the multi-cloud partnership were not disclosed.

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Microsoft adds a new superposition to quantum team

Microsoft’s Azure Quantum cloud computing service will be adding a brand-new tool to its toolbox: Pasqal’s neutral-atom quantum processing system.

When the French company’s system becomes available later this year, it will provide a method for processing data that’s different from the other methods offered through Azure Quantum.

“Running algorithms on Pasqal’s neutral-atom hardware opens the door to unique capabilities no other quantum system offers,” Pasqal CEO and founder Georges-Olivier Reymond said in a news release.

Unlike the rigid one-or-zero approach of classical computing, quantum computing makes use of quantum bits, or qubits, that can essentially represent different states simultaneously until the results are read out.

Theoretically, the quantum approach should be able to solve certain types of problems, such as network optimization, much more quickly than the classical approach. The technology could open new frontiers in fields ranging from traffic planning to drug development to data encryption.

Azure Quantum — and other cloud-based services including Amazon Braket, IBM Quantum, D-Wave Leap and Google Quantum AI — are already experimenting with hybrid quantum algorithms and looking forward to the development of full-stack, general-purpose quantum computing systems.

The two main avenues for developing quantum hardware make use of superconducting circuits and ion traps. Pasqal takes a different approach, involving neutral atoms that are manipulated at room temperature with laser-powered optical “tweezers.”

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Amazon teams up with Brazil’s space agency

Amazon Web Services and the Brazilian Space Agency are joining forces to support long-term growth of the space industry in Latin America’s largest country.

The statement of strategic intent and cooperation, signed by AWS and the space agency (known in Portuguese as the Agência Espacial Brasileira, or AEB), follows similar agreements that Amazon has made with Greece and Singapore.

But Brazil is a higher-profile case: Last year, Brazilian space and defense officials announced that Virgin Orbit would conduct orbital launches from the country’s Alcântara Space Center. Brazil is also a participant in the International Space Station program, and it has signed onto NASA’s Artemis Accords for moon exploration.

“The Brazilian government is on the hook to help provide capability for Artemis,” Peter Marquez, AWS’ head of space policy, told me. “We would love to help in those traditional areas, but in addition to that, the journey of getting to the moon, as well as building up other capabilities in Brazil, presents the opportunity to further grow the Brazilian space community commercially.”

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Microsoft expands its cloud ecosystem in space

One year after Microsoft expanded its Azure cloud domain to the final frontier, the company is taking another giant leap in its campaign to build a digital ecosystem for the space community.

Today, Azure Space is lifting the curtain on a new array of space-centric offerings, including satellite imagery from Airbus, software-based communication links from ST Engineering iDirect and geospatial data analysis from Esri, Blackshark.ai and Orbital Insight.

Microsoft is also unveiling a couple of in-house tools to enhance satellite images.

Taken together, the enhancements should provide more possibilities for solving problems on our home planet, said Stephen Kitay, senior director of Azure Space.

“What we’re focused on is bringing the space community and cloud together,” Kitay told GeekWire. “Our purpose is to innovate faster, to help these companies innovate faster and democratize the benefits of space, because ultimately space is critical to life here on Earth.”

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How the cloud supports Satellogic’s whole Earth catalog

It’s one thing to send down more than a trillion bytes of satellite data every day, and quite another thing to turn all that data into a complete picture of our planet that’s updated daily.

For the first part of the task, Satellogic — a global company that’s headquartered in Uruguay — turns to a constellation of Earth observation satellites that’s expected to grow from its current 17 spacecraft to more than 300 by 2025.

To help with the processing part of the job, Satellogic turns to Amazon Web Services.

“We’ve built the future together, between Satellogic and AWS,” Clint Crosier, director of AWS Aerospace and Satellite Solutions, told GeekWire. “We’ve enabled them to plan to their goal of being able to image every square kilometer of the Earth every single day.”