Investing in Space

Microsoft partners with SpaceX to connect Azure cloud to Musk's Starlink satellite internet

Key Points
  • Microsoft is partnering with SpaceX to connect the Azure cloud computing network to the growing Starlink satellite internet service offered by Elon Musk's company.
  • The partnership comes as Microsoft expands into the space industry, with the company a few weeks ago unveiling a new service called Azure Orbital to connect satellites directly to the cloud.
  • Azure Space and the new partnership sets up Microsoft and SpaceX to compete further with Jeff Bezos' businesses Amazon and Blue Origin, which have announced plans for similar satellite services and more.
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Microsoft is partnering with SpaceX to connect the tech giant's Azure cloud computing network to the growing Starlink satellite internet service offered by Elon Musk's company, the companies announced Tuesday.

Starlink is SpaceX's ambitious plan to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, designed to deliver high-speed internet to anywhere on the planet.

"The collaboration that we're announcing today will allow us to work together to deliver new offerings for both the public and the private sector to deliver connectivity through Starlink for use on Azure," SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a video. "Where it makes sense, we will work with [Microsoft]: co-selling to our mutual customers, co-selling to new enterprise and future customers."

To date, SpaceX has launched over 800 Starlink satellites – a fraction of the total needed for global coverage but enough to begin providing services in some regions, including in the northwest U.S. The company has an ongoing private beta test of the service, and is also working with organizations in rural regions of Washington state to deliver satellite internet.

The partnership comes as Microsoft expands into the space industry, with the company a few weeks ago unveiling a new service called Azure Orbital to connect satellites directly to the cloud. Notably, Azure Orbital and the new SpaceX partnership set up Microsoft and Musk's company to compete further with Jeff Bezos' businesses.

Amazon offers a service to connect its AWS cloud to satellites and is working on a competitor to Starlink called Kuiper – in addition to Bezos' personal investment in his rocket builder Blue Origin.

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SpaceX and Microsoft in recent months have been testing the software needed to connect Starlink and Azure.

The service connects Starlink's network to Microsoft datacenters, including a new "Azure Modular Datacenter" product that's essentially a mobile unit about the size of a semi-trailer. Starlink's global coverage helps make these Azure Modular Datacenters possible, as Microsoft says the product is designed "for customers who need cloud computing capabilities in hybrid or challenging environments, including remote areas."

An Azure Modular Datacenter
Microsoft

"SpaceX is of course the name that people immediately think of when they think of innovation and the evolution that's occurring to bring space technology into the 21st century," Tom Keane, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Azure Global, said in a company video.

Microsoft said that some Azure Modular Datacenters are "in early use with defense and private sector organizations," with the company seeing the product as a solution for military needs, humanitarian efforts, mobile command centers, mining and more.

Microsoft further expands its space business

Microsoft

The company on Tuesday announced the establishment of its Azure Space unit, building on the Azure Orbital launch.

"The space community is growing rapidly, and innovation is lowering the barriers of access for public and private sector organizations," Keane said. "What used to solely be the bastion of governments, the innovation developed by private space companies has democratized access to space, and the use of space to create new scenarios and opportunities to meet the needs of both the public and private sector space has been powering the world for a long time."

In addition to its SpaceX partnership, Microsoft is partnering with Luxembourg satellite operator SES. The company will also connect its O3b satellites to Azure, in addition to the services SES is providing for Azure Orbital.

"We intend to make Azure the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community," Keane said.

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