Amazon cloud business reaches into space with satellite connection service

  • AWS Ground Station is building a network of 12 satellite facilities around the world, Amazon announced on Tuesday.
  • Amazon's facilities will be built on the infrastructure from dozens of AWS data centers located around the world, Spire CEO Peter Platzer told CNBC.
  • "I wouldn't be surprised if in five years they have hundreds of ground stations around the world," Platzer said.
Spire launches small satellites to track all ships across oceans, rivers and lakes.
Spire launches small satellites to track all ships across oceans, rivers and lakes.

Amazon's cloud business is launching a satellite connection service, marking the company's first public move into space-related hardware and a continuation of its efforts to support the growing industry.

The company's AWS Ground Station unit is building a network of 12 satellite facilities around the world, Amazon announced on Tuesday, and planning to begin operations by the middle of next year. A ground station is the vital link for transmitting data to-and-from satellites in orbit.

"Satellite data is incredibly useful for building a wide range of important applications, but it is super complex and expensive to build and operate the infrastructure needed to do so," Charlie Bell, Amazon Web Services senior vice president, said in a statement. "Today, we are giving satellite customers the ability to dynamically scale their ground station antenna use based on actual need. And, they will be able to ingest data straight into AWS, where they can securely store, analyze, and transmit products to their customers."

AWS Ground Station is partnering with several satellite companies, include Spire Global, DigitalGlobe and BlackSky. Each of the companies operate ground facilities already but will work with AWS Ground Station to augment operations. Spire operates more than 30 ground stations already but expects Amazon's platform will offer faster speeds at lower costs.

"This offering that they're doing is just an extension" of Amazon's cloud service, Spire CEO Peter Platzer told CNBC. "Spire has built one of the world's largest ground station networks ... and now imagine that Amazon does all of that and the only thing that Spire does is rents capacity on the ground station."

Amazon's facilities will be built on the infrastructure from dozens of AWS data centers located around the world, according to Platzer.

"I wouldn't be surprised if in five years they have hundreds of ground stations around the world," Platzer said.

Spire has more than 60 "cubesat" sized satellites in orbit. The company's satellites have multiple sensor on board, which track ships and airplanes, as well as gather atmospheric data to forecast weather. Spire describes itself as an analytics company, as a variety of industries use Spire's data, ranging from hedge funds to earth scientists to shipping businesses.

A Spire Global engineer works on a satellite in a testing chamber.
Spire Global
A Spire Global engineer works on a satellite in a testing chamber.

AWS Ground Station would remove the heavy capital costs of building ground station networks off of satellite operators like Spire, according to Platzer. Companies like Spire would instead pay operational costs, to "rent capacity as our needs arise," Platzer said.

"The same way we rent compute capacity on Amazon due to need, we will now be able to rent ground station capacity to suck data from our satellites on demand as we need it," Platzer said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off carrying the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., May 22, 2018.
Bill Ingalls | Reuters
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off carrying the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., May 22, 2018.

AWS announced a partnership with Iridium Communications in September, to develop a satellite-based network called CloudConnect for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Iridium expects CloudConnect to launch in 2019, catering initially to the agricultural and shipping industries.

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