Space. I don’t know if this is the “final frontier”, but it is certainly a very convincing frontier. While billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson capture the headlines and the imagination as they strive to modernize and commercialize space travel, hundreds of lesser-known companies around the world are suing projects to explore and exploit space for a wider range of purposes. . Microsoft does not pursue its own space exploration program, but the company aims to be the platform and ecosystem of choice for organizations engaged in space missions through Azure Space.
5G networking from anywhere
Microsoft’s effort with Intelsat is an example. Commerce is increasingly global and organizations need to stay connected. In developed countries and populated areas, this is usually not a problem, but much of the world still lacks network infrastructure. Intelsat recently demonstrated its ability to deploy a secure, high-performance private LTE and 5G network by combining Intelsat’s satellite network and Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
An Intelsat blog post explains, “Through the private cellular network, users can access local corporate resources via SIM card-authenticated connections to Azure Stack Edge and access remote resources via the FlexEnterprise connection, the global network IntelsatOne and Azure”.
I spoke with Jean-Philippe Gillet, SVP Global Sales Media, and Networks for Intelsat, about the collaboration with Microsoft. He told me that the combination of satellite communications with Microsoft Azure allows them to provide enterprise customers anywhere in the world with fast, reliable and cost-effective network connectivity.
Gillet said Intelsat satellites provide global coverage, including land and sea. He shared that not only can customers provide access to applications and network resources from remote sites and offices, but this solution also enables seamless networking with moving fleets, such as trucks or ships, to enable access and connectivity for communications, telemetry tracking and other applications. and analysis on the go.
Activate the “final border”
As impressive as that sounds, it’s just one facet of what Microsoft is doing to enable businesses to tap into and benefit from space. Microsoft wants Azure Space to be the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of enterprises venturing into space or customers who want to leverage unique insights and data from space .
A few months ago, I spent some time with Steve Kitay, Senior Director of Azure Space at Microsoft. He explained how space exploration has always been driven by governmental and scientific goals, but we are now in a new era where commercial interests and business innovation are lowering the barrier to entry and expanding opportunities.
Kitay came to Microsoft after a career in the government sector, serving in positions ranging from active-duty military service on Capitol Hill to working for Congress. Prior to joining Microsoft, he worked at the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.
“There are huge investments in space right now,” Kitay proclaimed. “Because I think companies recognize the importance of this area and really the opportunity that arises. So Microsoft did the same, and you know, our mission is to empower our customers to do more.
Edge computing is already a thing, but Microsoft is taking it to the extreme. For Microsoft Azure, the “edge” is outer space.
Kitay clarified that Microsoft is not jumping to compete with SpaceX or Blue Origin. Microsoft does not even intend to build or launch its own satellites. He explained that Microsoft sees its role as partnering with others to facilitate and enable innovation. Microsoft is primarily focused on streamlining and accelerating the value of business innovation in the space.
Azure Space works with startups, midsize companies, and established players who are reinventing themselves and developing new technologies by bringing Microsoft technology into the equation to accomplish two things. “One is to help space operators and space developers innovate much faster,” Kitay said. “And then the second area we’re working on is how do we democratize space or make space more accessible to more people in more industries?”
He told me that Microsoft was expanding its already impressive terrestrial infrastructure to be able to connect customers all over the world to the cloud, to enable customers to bring geospatial data and analytics to the cloud to then perform artificial intelligence. “Ultimately, we bring enterprise capabilities to support different sectors and goals, whether it’s agriculture, sustainability, emissions, government, weather. It comes back to the question of how do we make space capabilities more accessible to those industries, and that’s where Microsoft provides a great platform because we already have those enterprise capabilities and we already serve those customers.
Democratize outer space
I also had a conversation with Tom Keane, Vice President of Azure at Microsoft, about why Microsoft is investing in this area and how the space fits into the larger cloud journey.
“We’re trying to combine what we’ve done in Azure with our cloud as well as the rest of the Microsoft cloud with the potential of space and kind of distilling our strategy into a multi-orbit, multi-vendor solution. , multi-frequency approach,” Keane explained. “And really, what it’s about is bringing data from satellites and different orbits and information into our cloud and using our cloud to transform the industries and create new paradigms.”
Keane told me about Azure Orbital, an effort by Microsoft to expand beyond its own ground stations and also integrate third-party ground stations natively into Azure. Additionally, Microsoft has engaged in a variety of key partnerships to democratize access to the space to reduce costs, accelerate time to market, and enable important research.
For example, Microsoft Research has developed methods to remove cloud cover from satellite images. Keane told me, “When you look at satellite images, often two-thirds of them have cloud cover, which makes them a lot harder to use and SpaceEye and some of the work we’ve done with Planetary Computer are to remove clouds through AI and complete this image to give you more usable images.
Keane said: “What technology ultimately does is democratize access. In our partnership strategy, we bring together a whole bunch of capabilities, and then we also create tools for space developers, so you can write applications and use space infrastructure, and even emulate and simulate that infrastructure before you go on orbit.
We talked about using geospatial data to understand ocean and weather patterns. Microsoft was able to demonstrate the use of satellite technology to monitor large bodies of water over time to see how global warming is affecting and changing them. An example is the ability to analyze the level of a lake over a 10-year period using geospatial data.
“These data are interesting for sustainability reasons. This is interesting for insurance companies. It is interesting for monitoring and tracking the supply chain. The possibilities are pretty endless. And we have customers in a whole variety of industries who are really interested in taking advantage of that,” Keane said.
We’re still at a very early stage in the space, and we’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible in business innovation. Partnerships like the one between Microsoft and Intelsat demonstrate what can be achieved when companies work together to push the boundaries. Microsoft seems very focused on driving innovation and democratizing access to space for businesses of all sizes around the world.