Emergency SOS: Apple iPhones to be able to send/receive texts via Globalstar LEO satellites in November

Apple finally confirmed a longstanding rumor that its new iPhones will be able to connect directly to LEO satellites to send and receive text messages. The feature, called Emergency SOS, will allow iPhone 14 models to message from remote locations not covered by traditional cellular infrastructure. Apple says the service launches in November and will be free to iPhone 14 buyers for two years. It didn’t specify what it might cost after that.  Apple noted at Wednesday’s Cupertino, CA HQ event that its smartphone would need to be pointed directly at a satellite to work, and that even light foliage could make texts  a few minutes to send.

Globalstar confirmed in a filing Wednesday that it will be operating the service through a partnership with Apple. Under that agreement, Apple will cover 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. It will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the service, which analyst Mike Crawford of B. Riley describes as “in one fell swoop converting an underutilized asset to a productive asset.”

The deal will include service fees and potential bonus payments, allowing Globalstar to project total revenue in a range of $185 million to $230 million for next year and $250 million to $310 million for 2026, which is expected to be the first full year that all of the company’s new satellites are operational. Even the low end of the near-term target would be a record high for the satellite-service provider, representing a gain of 44% above the annual revenue Globalstar has averaged for the past three years. Globalstar notably broke from the traditionally dry language of SEC filings to describe the deal as “transformational.”

Globalstar, currently offers SPOT X which provides 2-way satellite messaging so users can stay connected whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with search & rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X provides your own personal U.S. mobile number so others can message you directly from their mobile phone or SMS devices at any time.

Globalstar Satellite System:

Like “bent-pipes” or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar satellites pick up signals from over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks.  This highly effective design offers the shortest connectivity latency and enables Globalstar to upgrade our system with the latest technology on the ground.

Globalstar’s new satellite constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and second generation ground infrastructure deliver exceptional quality, reliable coverage and high quality service to its customers.

Image Credit:  Globalstar

The company’s patented satellite path and gateway diversity technologies allow customers to stay connected in the event of a single satellite failure by automatically transmitting to the next available satellite. This ensures uninterrupted communication in even the most suboptimal conditions like mountainous areas or urban canyons.

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There is increasing competition for LEO satellite based internet access from smartphones:

  1. Starlink/SpaceX, announced a deal last month with T-Mobile to launch a text-based service by the end of next year.  The Apple-Globalstar service might have cooled some enthusiasm. It is designed for emergency texting only, as opposed to providing a more typical smartphone experience in the wild.
  2. In addition to T-Mobile’s venture with SpaceX, the Globalstar rival Iridium announced in July that it has entered a development agreement with an unnamed company for a smartphone service that it expects to complete by the end of the year. Ric Prentiss of Raymond James wrote Thursday that the total addressable market “for satellite-smartphone off-the-grid connectivity is quite large with room for several initiatives globally.”

References:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-will-keep-globalstar-in-orbit-11662698148?mod=markets_major_pos3

https://www.globalstar.com/en-us/solutions/emergency-remote-communications

https://www.globalstar.com/en-us/about/our-technology

 

Musk’s SpaceX and T-Mobile plan to connect mobile phones to LEO satellites in 2023

Musk’s SpaceX and T-Mobile plan to connect mobile phones to LEO satellites in 2023

During a live media event Thursday afternoon, T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert and SpaceX’s Elon Musk announced a new partnership that’s intended to connect T-Mobile sold phones to a new constellation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The result, according to the companies, will be the elimination of all cellular dead zones around the U.S.

“It’s a lot like putting a cellular tower in the sky,” Sievert said, adding that the “vast majority” of T-Mobile’s existing phones would be supported by the service. Meaning, customers will not need to purchase new phones in order to connect them to Starlink’s second-generation satellites.

Sievert said that T-Mobile expects to offer the service for no additional charge on its more expensive plans. For customers on its cheaper plans, he said they may need to pay an additional monthly charge in order to be able to access satellite coverage.

Starlink’s satellites will use T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum to create a new network. Most phones used by the company’s customers will be compatible with the new service, which will start with texting services in a beta phase beginning by the end of next year.  The companies did not say when it might launch commercially.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert at a joint news conference at Space X facility in Brownsville, TX

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

SpaceX has launched nearly 3,000 low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) Starlink satellites since 2019, handily outpacing rivals OneWeb and Amazon.com Inc’s Project Kuiper.  Starlink recently suffered a major setback when the FCC rejected the company’s application for almost $900 million in government subsidies. The agency ruled that Starlink’s service likely wouldn’t be able to meet the agency’s speed and service requirements.

SpaceX’s next-generation Starlink satellites, the first of which are planned to launch on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket whenever it is fully developed, will have larger antennae that will allow connectivity directly to mobile phones on the T-mobile network, Musk said.

Meanwhile, U.S telecom firms are in a race to build up the mid-band portion of their 5G networks to catch up with T-Mobile, which bagged a chunky 2.5 GHz of mid-band spectrum thanks to a buyout of rival Sprint.

Mid-band or C-Band has proven to be perfect for 5G, as it provides a good balance of capacity and coverage.  T-Mobile said it aims to pursue voice and data coverage after the texting services beta phase.

Others in the Mix:

Satellite communications firm AST SpaceMobile Inc is also building a global cellular broadband network in space that will operate with mobile devices without the need for additional hardware.  AST SpaceMobile is relying on SpaceX’s rockets to get its satellites into orbit, having pivoted away from a plan to use Russian rockets after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Elon [Musk] and Mike [Sievert, of T-Mobile] helped the world focus attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network,” AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan wrote on LinkedIn yesterday. “BlueWalker 3 … is scheduled for launch within weeks!”

Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T each have their own satellite plans: Verizon plans to use Amazon’s planned Project Kuiper satellites to connect its rural cell towers to the Internet, and AT&T is planning a similar setup with OneWeb’s own growing constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

In 2020, AT&T agreed to let startup AST SpaceMobile use its Band 5 spectrum to test transmissions from its BlueWalker 1 satellite to devices on the ground. AST SpaceMobile is now hoping to launch its new BlueWalker 3 prototype later next month. However, as reported by SpaceNews, supply chain issues delayed the launch of AST SpaceMobile’s first operational satellite by about six months, to late 2023.

AST SpaceMobile’s main rival, Lynk, already has one operational satellite in orbit for phone connections. As noted by Ars Technica, the company is hoping to receive FCC approval to offer satellite-to-phone services across 35 countries by the end of this year.

“Elon said it’s hard, and it’s only been done in the lab, but Lynk has done it in space already,” Lynk’s Charles Miller told the publication yesterday. “We’re the only company in the world that has done that.”

Lynk hasn’t yet announced an agreement with a major U.S. network operator, though it has agreements with a number of international operators.  Lynk tested its services in the U.S. with Smith Bagley, a tiny wireless network operator offering services under the Cellular One brand in East Arizona.

“There are significant regulatory hurdles to clear, as the FCC is reviewing SpaceX’s request to launch a constellation of 30,000 Gen2 satellites, while other LEO proposals including Amazon’s Project Kuiper (with whom Verizon is collaborating) and AST SpaceMobile (financial backing from Vodafone and a commercial agreement with AT&T) are also working DC as well as international agencies to put some rules in place for this latest chapter of the Space Race,” Raymond James analysts wrote in a note to investors.

References:

https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/elon-musks-spacex-t-mobile-us-plan-boost-cellular-coverage-space-2022-08-26/

https://www.lightreading.com/satellite/t-mobile-and-spacex-want-to-connect-regular-phones-to-satellites/d/d-id/779964?

https://www.lightreading.com/satellite/did-elon-musk-just-upstage-tim-cooks-big-iphone-14-surprise/a/d-id/779976?

UPDATE:  Apple iPhone 14 text messages via Globalstar LEO satellites starting Nov 2022:

Emergency SOS: Apple iPhones to be able to send/receive texts via Globalstar LEO satellites in November 2022

Microsoft unveils Azure Space Partner Community to shape the future of space technologies and services

Microsoft is expanding its relationships with space companies through the Azure Space Partner Community, an initiative unveiled July 19 at the Microsoft Inspire 2022 conference.

The Azure Space Partner Community enables Microsoft’s partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to joint customers, helping to shape the future of space technologies and services. The space industry is rapidly advancing and we believe in the power of bringing together this community in an ecosystem.

This ecosystem is enabled with opportunities such as co-engineering, go-to-market scaling and support, alongside many other benefits designed to empower our partners. We are excited to rapidly innovate and advance the industry with our inaugural cohort of partners, and we look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come.

“By launching the Azure Space Partner Community, we can enable our partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to our joint customers, and help shape the future of space technologies and services,” Stephen Kitay, Microsoft Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews. “This is an ecosystem of space partners with exclusive access to technical support and scaling solutions.”

Microsoft’s inaugural cohort of space-related partners are Airbus, Amergint, Ball Aerospace, blackshark.ai, Esri, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, iDirect, Intelsat, Kratos, KSAT, Loft Orbital, Nokia, Omnispace, Orbital Insight, SES, SkyWatch, SpaceX, Thales Alenia Space, US Electrodynamics, Viasat and Xplore.

Image Credit:  Microsoft

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“We look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come,” Kitay said.

Microsoft has played a growing role in the space sector since announcing plans in 2020 to help customers move data directly from satellites into the Azure cloud for processing and storage.

“We’ve increasingly seen an opportunity for this community to benefit from Microsoft engineering and go-to-market resources,” Kitay said.

Azure Space Community partners will have access to Microsoft sales and engineering specialists, go-to-market scale and support, and guidance related to marketing and community involvement. In addition, Azure Space Partners will be eligible for incentives like Azure credits, sponsored accounts and volume discounts.

By establishing the Azure Space Community, Microsoft is “creating more of a structure” to clearly convey the benefits of membership and enable the tech giant to “efficiently onboard” new partners, Kitay said.

Through the Azure Space Partner Community (which falls under the broader Microsoft Partner Program), Microsoft also is acknowledging the growing importance of the space sector.

“It is absolutely representative of the value and importance that Microsoft is placing on this industry and our excitement about growing alongside these partners,” Kitay said. “Space is a big data domain, where massive amounts of data are either moving through space with connectivity solutions or being collected from space and transmitted to the Earth. The need to process that, understand it and then connect it with customers is vitally important.

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Program Details and Deliverables:

Image Credit:  Microsoft

Co-innovation and engineering:
The Azure Space Partner Community will have direct access to Microsoft engineering and specialist resources to turn our partnership vision into reality, including:

  • Participation in Azure Space training to learn about and onboard the latest Azure Space technologies.
  • Collaboration and innovation with our engineering and sales specialist teams for customer proof of concepts to demonstrate the value of our partnership.
  • Access to quarterly Azure Space NDA roadmap reviews and newsletters, and ability to directly influence the produce roadmap.
  • Partner highlighting in reference architectures and training materials.
  • Priority access to early adopter and private preview programs.

Go-to-market scale and support:
Our Azure Space Partner Community will be able to increase their go-to-market opportunities by participating in the following opportunities:

  • Microsoft first party product integration or add-ins, such as in Teams, Power BI, or productivity tools.
  • White glove onboarding to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, to become a cloud solution provider or managed solution provider via direct or indirect channels.
  • Support onboarding to the Azure Marketplace as an indirect or transactable offer, with access to a broad set of Azure sellers and customers.
  • Joint go-to-market coordination with a regular cadence of customer pipeline reviews.

Marketing and community involvement:
Azure Space provides a unique opportunity for our partners to expand their marketing through public outreach via our marketing channels, such as:

  • Opportunities to be showcased in Microsoft customer presentations and sales training.
  • Participation in space and spectrum focused Microsoft events – such as BUILD, Inspire or sales readiness.
  • Joint public relations and marketing opportunities, such as press releases, blogs, and speaking events at conferences.

Product offering incentives:
The Space Partner Community will also have special access to our premier incentives offered for Azure Space product offerings:

  • Azure credits, sponsored accounts, and volume discounts in return for Microsoft Azure Consumption Commitment.
  • Enterprise Agreement Programs, such as Licensed Service Providers (LSPs) and Azure Online Services Government (AOSG), with rebates based on resell criteria.
  • FastTrack dedicated modernization and migration architecture support for qualified opportunities.
  • Many other Microsoft Partner Network benefits, such as credits for gold competencies and partner marketing benefits via co-sell programs.

References:

https://www.microsoft.com/azure/partners/news/article/announcing-the-azure-space-partner-community

Microsoft reveals Azure Space Partner Community

Verizon partners with Amazon Project Kuiper to offer FWA in unconnected and underserved areas

Today at the 2021 Mobile World Congress (MWC) Los Angeles CA, Verizon and Amazon announced a strategic collaboration that will combine Verizon’s 5G wireless network with Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The first offering from the new partnership will backhaul Verizon’s cell sites through Amazon’s LEO satellites, enabling Verizon to offer fixed wireless access (FWA) in unconnected rural or underserved areas.

As part of the collaboration, Project Kuiper and Verizon have begun to develop technical specifications [1.] and define preliminary commercial models for a range of connectivity services for U.S. consumers and global enterprise customers operating in rural and remote locations around the world.

Note 1.  There are no 3GPP specifications or ITU recommendations for the use of LEO satellites for 5G (IMT 2020/ITU-R M.2150) backhaul.  Therefore, new carrier specifications are needed for 5G RANs to use LEO satellite networks for backhaul.

However, 3GPP is planning to include non-terrestrial networks (NTN) and to address satellite’s role in the 5G vision in their Release 17 package of specifications, to be released next year.  You can read an overview of 3GPP NTN’s here.

ITU-R SG 4 is responsible for Satellite services.  That includes Systems and networks for the fixed-satellite service, mobile-satellite service, broadcasting-satellite service and radiodetermination-satellite service.  In particular,

Working Party 4B (WP 4B) – Systems, air interfaces, performance and availability objectives for FSS, BSS and MSS, including IP-based applications and satellite news gathering

ITU-R WP4B carries out studies on performance, availability, air interfaces and earth-station equipment of satellite systems in the FSS, BSS and MSS. This group has paid particular attention to the studies of Internet Protocol (IP)-related system aspects and performance and has developed new and revised Recommendations and Reports on IP over satellite to meet the growing need for satellite links to carry IP traffic. This group has close cooperation with the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector. Of particular interest are:

  • Terms of Reference for Working Party 4B Correspondence Group on satellite radio interface technologies for the satellite component of IMT-2020.
  • Working document towards a preliminary draft new Report ITU-R M.[XYZ.ABC] on Vision and requirements for satellite radio interface(s) of IMT-2020

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Amazon’s Project Kuiper is an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) around the planet. The system will serve individual households, as well as schools, hospitals, businesses and other organizations operating in places where internet access is limited or unavailable. Amazon has committed an initial $10 billion to the program, which will deliver fast, affordable broadband to customers and communities around the world.

The Verizon-Amazon partnership seeks to expand coverage and deliver new customer-focused connectivity solutions that combine Amazon’s advanced LEO satellite system and Verizon’s world-class wireless technology and infrastructure. To begin, Amazon and Verizon will focus on expanding Verizon data networks using cellular backhaul solutions from Project Kuiper. The integration will leverage antenna development already in progress from the Project Kuiper team, and both engineering teams are now working together to define technical requirements to help extend fixed wireless coverage to rural and remote communities across the United States.

Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg said, “Project Kuiper offers flexibility and unique capabilities for a LEO satellite system, and we’re excited about the prospect of adding a complementary connectivity layer to our existing partnership with Amazon. We know the future will be built on our leading 5G network, designed for mobility, fixed wireless access and real-time cloud compute. More importantly, we believe that the power of this technology must be accessible for all. Today’s announcement will help us explore ways to bridge that divide and accelerate the benefits and innovation of wireless connectivity, helping benefit our customers on both a global and local scale.”

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said, “There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own. Verizon is a leader in wireless technology and infrastructure, and we’re proud to be working together to explore bringing fast, reliable broadband to the customers and communities who need it most. We look forward to partnering with companies and organizations around the world who share this commitment.”

This partnership will also pave the way for Project Kuiper and Verizon to design and deploy new connectivity solutions across a range of domestic and global industries, from agriculture and energy to manufacturing and transportation. The Kuiper System is designed with the flexibility and capacity to support enterprises of all sizes. By pairing those capabilities with Verizon’s wireless, private networking and edge compute solutions, the two will be able to extend connectivity to businesses operating and deploying assets on a global scale.

Betsy Huber, President, The National Grange said: “The agriculture industry is going to see dramatic changes in how it operates and succeeds in the next several years. Smart farms, bringing technology to agriculture, and connecting the last mile of rural America will be at the forefront of helping our industry to provide food for billions around the globe. Ensuring connectivity in rural areas will be key to making these endeavors a success. We’re excited to see the leadership from both companies working together to help take our industry to the next level.”

Financial analysts at New Street Research said the opportunity could be worth billions of dollars to the two companies. Specifically, they argued that Verizon’s wireless network currently does not cover around 7 million Americans. “If 50% of these people become Kuiper/Verizon customers and assuming Verizon’s phone ARPU [average revenue per user] of ~$60, there could be $2.4 billion in annual revenue,” they wrote.

Amazon and Verizon have previously teamed up to serve customers across many industries, including integrating Verizon’s 5G Edge MEC platform with AWS Wavelength and forming the Voice Interoperability Initiative. This collaboration builds on the relationship between the two companies, and lays the groundwork for Amazon and Verizon to serve additional consumer and global enterprise customers around the world.

Executives from Verizon and Amazon hinted that backhaul is only the start of the companies’ new partnership. They noted that Verizon’s plan to use Amazon’s LEO satellites is just the latest in a long line of pairings between the companies stretching from edge computing to private wireless networks.

“We’ve worked with Verizon on many complex projects over the years,” Amazon SVP David Limp said during a keynote presentation at MWC LA. Limp said Amazon continues to design and build its LEO satellites at the company’s Redmond, Washington, offices.

Verizon’s Chief Strategy Officer Rima Qureshi suggested Amazon and Verizon would explore other offerings beyond cell-site backhaul in the future. She said the companies would pursue “joint solutions” for large enterprise customers in industries stretching from agriculture to energy to education. She also said Verizon and Amazon would look for opportunities both domestically and internationally.

Qureshi noted Verizon’s deal with Nokia to deploy a private 5G network for Southampton in the UK – the largest of the 21 Associated British Ports. She suggested an Amazon-powered satellite component to that offering could extend connectivity beyond the port and into the ocean.

A spokesman for Verizon told Bloomberg it’s a global partnership with Amazon and it’s open to exploring similar deals with other companies, but declined to comment on the finances of the deal.

5G wireless telco’s deals with LEO satellite companies:

This new alliance between Verizon and Project Kuiper comes six weeks after AT&T made a similar deal with LEO satellite operator OneWeb. Just like Verizon, AT&T said it would use that agreement LEO (OneWeb) satellites to extend its connectivity reach to hard-to-serve areas that fall outside of AT&T’s fiber footprint or are beyond the reach of AT&T’s cell towers. AT&T said it would use LEO technology to enhance connectivity when connecting to its enterprise, small and medium-sized business and government customers as well as hard-to-reach cell towers.

In January, KDDI in Japan said it would use Starlink – the LEO offering from Elon Musk’s SpaceX – to connect 1,200 of its remote cell towers with backhaul. KDDI said it would begin offering services under that new teaming as soon as next year.

However, Project Kuiper is way behind both Starlink and OneWeb in terms of satellite deployments. As noted by GeekWire, Starlink already counts 1,650 satellites in orbit (and around 100,000 users), while OneWeb’s constellation is now up to around 358 satellites. Amazon, meantime, has received FCC approvals for the operation of more than 3,000 LEO satellites but has yet to launch any of them. Amazon has committed $10 billion toward the construction of its Kuiper LEO satellite network.

References:

https://www.verizon.com/about/news/5g-leo-verizon-project-kuiper-team

https://www.lightreading.com/satellite/verizon-amazon-to-integrate-leo-satellites-with-5g/d/d-id/773056?

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-26/amazon-signs-satellite-pact-with-verizon-in-challenge-to-musk

To learn more about partnering with Amazon and the Project Kuiper team, email [email protected]

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Related Articles:

https://techblog.comsoc.org/2021/09/08/att-and-oneweb-satellite-access-for-business-in-remote-u-s-areas/

https://news.kddi.com/kddi/corporate/english/newsrelease/2021/09/13/5400.html

https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2103/2103.09156.pdf

Microsoft and SpaceX Partner for Space-Cloud Initiative Challenging AWS

Microsoft Corp. is partnering with SpaceX to use the latter’s Starlink satellite internet service, as the software giant opens a new front in its cloud-computing battle with Amazon.com Inc. targeting space customers.  Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites.  It’s designed to deliver high-speed internet service to anywhere on earth (just like satellite phones for voice communications).

Microsoft’s Azure Space , launched today (October 20, 2020), would help connect and deploy new services using swarms of low-orbit communications satellites to be built by SpaceX, and more traditional fleets of satellites circling the earth at higher altitudes. The Azure Space initiative is targeting commercial and government space businesses. It comes about three months after Amazon Web Services (AWS), disclosed its space-focused effort. Just a few weeks ago, Microsoft announced  a new service called Azure Orbital to connect satellites directly to cloud resident data centers.

A new “Azure Modular Datacenter” is 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.”

“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 service.

Some analysts have projected that the total revenue from space-related cloud services could total about $15 billion by the end of the decade, at least several times higher than current levels.

Competition in the cloud between Amazon AWS, the market leader, and No. 2 Microsoft Azure has been heating up in recent years.  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 space rocket builder Blue Origin.  The pandemic has intensified competition between AZURE and AWS  as companies accelerate their shift to the cloud and make vendor choices that could last for years. At the same time, military and intelligence agencies are ramping up spending on a range of space projects.

Space is only the latest area where the two cloud giants are going head-to-head. In June, Amazon launched a dedicated business unit focused on securing space-related contracts. Amazon already has Maxar Technologies Inc. and Capella Space as customers, helping them manage data coming from satellites.

Microsoft’s goal is to create integrated, secure networks, linking various cloud, space and ground capabilities. The system, for instance, would accumulate and analyze huge volumes of data, supporting missions such as space-debris surveillance and missile warnings and helping to control the orbits of commercial satellites.

“The space community is growing rapidly, and innovation is lowering the barriers of access for public and private sector organizations.  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,” wrote Microsoft Corp VP of Azure Global Tim Keane in a blog post.  “We intend to make Azure the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community,” Keane added.

In addition to working with SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Microsoft said it is in partnership with Luxembourg’s SES SA, which separately operates a network of larger satellites significantly farther from earth under the brand O3b. Microsoft executives declined to disclose the size of their anticipated investment, but the initiative targets some of the fastest-growing national-security endeavors in space, sometimes harnessing artificial intelligence.

SpaceX, which is in the process of deploying its Starlink project consisting of thousands of high-speed internet satellites intended to provide connectivity around the globe, makes a natural partner for Microsoft. A major reason is that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pursuing his own low-orbit satellite constellation. Jeff Bezos also owns Blue Origin, a rocket company competing with SpaceX.

Elon Musk has sparred with Bezos before. The SpaceX chief executive who also runs electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc. this year called for a break up of Amazon after the retailer rejected a book about the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon later said it had taken the action in error.

Microsoft and Walmart Inc. struck a cloud-computing deal two years ago. And this year the software giant and FedEx Corp. struck a partnership. Months earlier, Amazon had temporarily blocked some of its vendors from using some FedEx services.

Amazon’s and Microsoft’s steps in space come as the U.S. Defense Department is moving rapidly to embrace such sprawling constellations of smaller spacecraft for communications, surveillance and other applications. Pentagon brass have said smaller, lighter and more maneuverable satellites are essential to protect U.S. assets from potential hostile actions in space.

Microsoft is “focused deeply on governments and defense,” said Tom Keane, a corporate vice president. The space effort, he said, provides an opportunity “to bring commercial technology and innovation to the military.”

Satellite in orbit

Image Credit: Microsoft

SpaceX recently won a demonstration contract for a new generation of missile-warning satellites, which industry officials say could serve as the backbone for eventual Microsoft forays into that arena.

The U.S. national-security establishment also is shifting to greater cloud use. Microsoft last year beat out Amazon for a potential $10 billion cloud-computing contract for the Pentagon. Amazon has challenged the decision, which has since been affirmed by the Pentagon.

References: