In 2020, Microsoft launched the Azure Space initiative with the goal of making its cloud service a major player in the space and satellite communications market. This Wednesday, the Redmond-based firm unveiled new details of the plan it intends to follow to expand its portfolio of satellite communications services.
To do this, Microsoft management just launched their new service called Azure Orbital Cloud Access in closed preview. This service is currently only open to American community organizations. It is designed specifically for IT professionals who need to connect in underserved areas.
Azure Orbital Cloud Access is designed to intelligently prioritize traffic across fiber, cellular, and satellite networks. Priority network traffic is routed through the SpaceX Starlink service in conjunction with Azure devices, allowing customers to access Microsoft cloud services wherever the SpaceX service is available. As a reminder, SpaceX has established itself as one of Microsoft’s primary Azure Space partners since the Redmond-based firm’s first steps in the space space cloud service.
Last year, Microsoft announced that the Azure Orbital service had reached the preview stage, allowing customers to communicate with and control satellites from ground stations owned by Microsoft and its partners around the world without incurring the cost of connecting to Azure. This original Azure Orbital service has been renamed to Azure Orbital Ground Station, allowing Microsoft to use the Azure Orbital brand name to cover multiple services, the latest being Azure Orbital Cloud Access.
Partnership with SpaceX
That’s not all: On Wednesday, Microsoft also announced the general availability of Azure Orbital Ground Station, its first ground station as a service product. The Azure Orbital Ground Station transmits satellite data directly to Azure. In addition, Microsoft is working with partners to bring satellite communications into enterprise cloud operations by integrating 5G and satellite communications through its Azure Orbital services. Ultimate goal: to help satellite providers virtualize their analog systems.
Azure Space isn’t just for space companies. It is intended for public and private sector clients in the fields of agriculture, energy, telecommunications and public procurement. This is also for any client with remote access and bandwidth needs.
Microsoft’s main cloud competitor, Amazon Web Services or AWS, announced in June 2020 its own space industry strategy and space division called Aerospace and Satellite Solutions. AWS has also built its own satellite communications service, the AWS ground station, and satellite company Project Kuiper, which competes with SpaceX’s Starlink and other satellite network providers. Last year, Microsoft announced Elon Musk’s Space X as one of its key Azure Space partners. Microsoft is working with SpaceX to bring satellite internet connectivity to Azure.
Last year, Microsoft created a new strategic mission and technology group as part of a realignment of its Cloud + AI business. This new team brings together Microsoft’s federal operations, Azure Space & Mission Engineering in the US; Azure for carriers (its telecom-focused business), and Azure Quantum. Its purpose is to accelerate these actions. “You can’t have a hyperscale cloud without a space solution,” said Jason Zander, executive vice president of missions and strategic technology. Zander added that Microsoft’s work on Azure Space is to bring cutting-edge technology as close as possible to the places where computing is used.