Is Azure Space the Next Giant Step in Cloud Computing? 

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At XAM we are cloud-native developers, we love to help our customers succeed on Azure, but what’s next, how about Azure Space?

Microsoft’s Azure Space initiative was launched in October 2020 to position Azure within the space and satellite part of the cloud market. The initiative brought together renowned space industry veterans, world-class product engineers and scientists to build cloud capabilities for space. However, as the space community has grown and innovation has lowered the barriers to entry for both public and private companies, Azure Space has needed to evolve. The company aims to place itself as the ecosystem of choice for simulating space missions, discovering insights from satellite data and driving innovation. 

In early December, Microsoft announced some significant updates to Azure Space, including a new partnership with Airbus. With these updates, Azure hopes to make space connectivity and compute increasingly accessible across industries such as agriculture, telecommunications and energy. By extending the utility of Azure capabilities and unlocking cloud computing in more scenarios, Azure customers will be able to achieve more than ever. 

What is Microsoft’s Azure Space Initiative?

The world’s network needs are continually growing, and Azure Space is all about meeting those needs. Previously, Microsoft delivered its cloud computing offering across the globe, on-premise within enterprises through Azure Stack. However, Azure Space enables mobile cloud computing data centres to be deployed anywhere for customers with remote access and bandwidth needs. To advance its offering further, alongside several other products and partnerships, the company teamed up with SpaceX, leveraging its network of over 800 Starlink internet satellites. With these partnerships, Azure Space aims to deliver:

  • Unparalleled Satellite Networking  – the importance of data to society has increased exponentially, which makes fast, secure connectivity fundamental. Azure has a global network of over 160,000 miles of subsea, terrestrial and metro optical fibre to help connect billions of people. Moreover, new capabilities with its networks of satellite providers are allowing it to deliver multi-orbit, multi-band, multi-vendor, cloud-enabled connectivity. It is the combination of Azure’s ability to deliver high-performance computing, machine learning and data analytics combined with its partners’ resilient satellite communications that sets Azure Space apart. 
  • Self-Contained Data Centres – many businesses need to use cloud computing at the intelligent edge and in extreme environments. To help with the toughest of missions, Azure created Microsoft Azure Modular Data Centre (MDC). MDC was designed to support high-intensity, secure cloud computing in challenging environments. Basically, it means that Azure is available in a self-contained unit wherever and whenever it is required. The data centre can be deployed to remote locations or can bolster existing infrastructure with a field solution. 
  • Space-Ready Technology – Microsoft is committed to heling the space community launch faster and with greater mission assurance. To do this, new technology has been developed. For example, Azure Orbital Emulator conducts satellite constellation simulations at scale to allow satellite developers to evaluate and train AI algorithms before launch. 

New Capabilities Driving Azure Space

The need for low latency, high capacity infrastructure is critical as the public and private sectors launch more satellites and constellations into space. Never content to rest on its laurels, Microsoft has continued to make space capabilities more accessible through collaboration and productivity tools. Where 2020 saw the announcement of Azure Space bringing the cloud to Space, 2021 saw the following capabilities added:

  • Azure Orbital – while Azure Orbital was part of the initial Azure Space offering, the service was initially just for private satellite operators and to process and analyse data in Azure and schedule access to ground station antennas. Now in public preview, Azure Orbital will allow customers to communicate with and control satellites from Microsoft and its partners’ ground stations, managing satellite data at cloud scale. 
  • SpaceEye – over two-thirds of the world is covered in clouds which creates a significant challenge for Earth observation from space. SpaceEye is a Microsoft Research AI project aimed at cloud-free optical and multispectral imagery. It creates daily imagery for the planet that could unlock several use cases in agriculture, land-use monitoring, disaster response and more. 
  • Project Turing – Micoots’s Turing research is being used to enhance images. Turing’s super-resolution enables satellite imagery to be increased to a resolution comparable to aerial. This can greatly aid human perfection of overhead imagery and is currently being used on Azure to enhance Bing Maps worldwide. 

The Expertise of New Partnerships

As well as providing new tools to its customers, Microsoft is working with a growing ecosystem of partners. These partnerships can help to drive innovation on and off the planet and expand Azure’s space ecosystem. Microsoft has recently announced new partnerships with several leading companies:

  • Airbus – a partnership aimed at bringing world-leading high-resolution satellite imagery and elevation data into Azure. Airbus will feed Azure Maps with its high-resolution satellite imagery, delivering accurate, top-quality imagery, helping customers develop new applications and unlocking new cloud computing scenarios.  
  • Esri – Microsoft is teaming up with the global market leader in geographic information system software (GIS), to streamline spaceborne data and geospatial analytic workflows to the Azure cloud. The partnership will give customers end-to-end geospatial data management and analytics for almost real-time spaceborne data. 
  • Blackshark.ai – Blackshark.ai offers advanced geospatial intelligence and 3D synthetic environments. These can be used at scale to empower customers with data, insights and a digital twin of the planet on Azure. 
  • Orbital Insight – the world-leading geospatial analytics software company helps us understand what’s happening on Earth. The collaboration has formed the Orbital Insight GO platform on Azure, where customers can unlock insights on life patterns, visualise supply chains and detect anomalies. The partnership should empower decision-makers in these fields to act with confidence.

Can Your Project Use Azure Space?

With the combination of cloud and space capabilities, new sources of data can be collected, transported and analysed. And this means that new insights can be derived to drive innovations. By having the power to extract and leverage data collected from space, Azure Space could transform entire industries and create new solutions to the most challenging of problems. But Azure Space isn’t just for companies in the space industry; it’s meant for any customer with remote access and bandwidth needs. The result is a solution that can traverse industries, countries and, indeed, worlds. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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