AWS Ground Station satellite control system is officially 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.

AWS Ground Station is designed to deal with the growing flood of data for geospatial applications, ranging from weather to maritime traffic to urban planning to crop assessment to disaster response.

“Satellite data offers customers a profound way to build applications that help humans explore space and improve life on Earth, but the cost and difficulty of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to downlink and process the data has historically been prohibitive for all but the most well-funded organizations,” Shayn Hawthorne, general manager of AWS Ground Station, said in a news release.

Hawthorne said Ground Station aims to drive down the cost of space communications and make the tools of the trade easier to use.

“Customers can rely on AWS Ground Station’s global footprint to downlink data when and where they need it, get timely data, and build new applications faster based on readily available satellite data, without having to buy, lease and maintain complex and expensive infrastructure,” he said.

AWS says the cost savings can amount to as much as 80 percent.

In a follow-up interview, Hawthorne referred to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ oft-stated observation that Amazon’s success was built on foundational capabilities such as the global internet, the U.S. Postal Service and package delivery services such as UPS and FedEx. In a similar way, entrepreneurs in the space industry need an infrastructure upon which to build their business ventures.

“Ground Station wants to provide one of these foundational capabilities,” Hawthorne said.

That sounds a lot like the vision for Blue Origin, Bezos’ privately held space venture, and Hawthorne is perfectly willing to give his billionaire boss full credit for the insight. “If anyone picked it up from anyone, I probably picked it up from him,” he told GeekWire.

Today AWS Ground Station is available via Amazon Web Services’ US East (Ohio) and US West (Oregon) antenna installations. And within 10 years, Hawthorne envisions having hundreds of antennas set up in the Americas, the European Union, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia.

“This is just Day One of the first year,” he said, using a well-known Amazon catchphrase.

in a blog post, Jeff Barr, AWS vice president and chief evangelist, provides a guide to the platform’s self-service graphical interface, which lets users sign up for on-boarding, select satellite links, reserve contacts and specify where the data will go. “You can get started with AWS Ground Station today,” he writes.

Some big-name users have already started with AWS Ground Station.

Maxar Technologies, which operates WorldView high-resolution Earth-observation satellites, is gearing up for the launch of its next-generation WorldView Legion constellation. “AWS Ground Station will provide us with more opportunities and capacity to downlink and analyze the large amount of data WorldView Legion will be sending back to Earth, enabling us to extract insights from the data for our customers when and where it matters,” Walter Scott, Maxar’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

Other partners and customers include Thales Alenia Space, the Myriota satellite IoT venture, Capella Space, NSLComm, D-Orbit, Open Cosmos and Spire Global.

Spire operates a network of 30 ground stations to link up with its constellation of more than 70 satellites, but the company uses AWS Ground Station to get faster access to fresh data when needed.

“Spire has witnessed a heightened awareness and an increasingly global need for satellite-based, Earth-observation data for business, especially in the fields of weather, maritime and aviation,” Spire Global CEO Peter Platzer said. “The flexibility of AWS Ground Station gives Spire the ability to satisfy that growing customer demand by flexibly augmenting our own global ground network capabilities.”

This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. PT May 23 to include additional comments from Shayn Hawthorne.

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