Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

AWS makes it easier to control satellite data

Steve Rogerson
May 30, 2019

Amazon Web Services has announced general availability of AWS Ground Station, a service that makes it easier for users to control satellites from AWS and download data from satellites into AWS infrastructure regions using a managed network of ground station antennas around the world.
Once users upload satellite commands and data through AWS Ground Station, they can quickly download large amounts of data over the high-speed Ground Station network, immediately process them in an Amazon EC2 elastic compute cloud instance, store them in the Amazon S3 simple storage service, apply analytics and machine learning services to gain insights, and use Amazon’s network to move the data to other regions and processing facilities.
Getting started with Ground Station takes a few clicks in the AWS management console to schedule antenna access time and launch an EC2 instance to communicate with the satellite. There are no up-front payments or long-term commitments, no ground infrastructure to build or manage, and users pay-by-the-minute for antenna access time used.
Satellites are being used by more businesses, universities and governments for applications such as weather forecasting, surface imaging and communications. To do this, users must build or lease ground antennas to communicate with the satellites. This is a significant undertaking and cost because they often require antennas in multiple countries to download data when and where they need them without waiting for the satellite to pass over a desired location.
And the antennas are just the beginning of the infrastructure requirements because they need servers, storage and networking in close proximity to the antenna to process, store and transport the data from the satellite. And then they must build business rules and workflows to organise, structure and route the data to employees or customers before they can be used to deliver value. This requires significant capital investments and operational costs to build, manage and securely maintain antennas, compute infrastructure and business logic at each antenna location.
AWS Ground Station allows users more easily and cost-effectively to control satellite operations, ingest satellite data and integrate the data with applications and other cloud services running in AWS.
Using Ground Station, users can save up to 80 per cent of their ground station costs by paying for antenna access time on demand, and they can rely on AWS’s growing global footprint of ground stations to downlink data when and where they need them.
These ground stations are also close to AWS regions around the world, so users can store, process and analyse the data locally, rapidly gain insights, and then quickly take action.
The immediacy of data is particularly critical when it comes to tracking and acting upon fast-moving conditions on the ground. This timeliness depends on frequent communications between ground stations and satellites, which can only be achieved with a large, global footprint of antennas maintaining frequent contact with orbiting satellites.
For example, as fast-moving environmental, geopolitical or news events unfold on the ground, users can downlink current data to any of the ground stations around the world. They can get timely data sooner, rapidly experiment with new applications, and deliver products to market faster without buying, leasing or maintaining complex and expensive antennas and infrastructure.
“Satellite data offer customers a profound way to build applications that help humans explore space and improve life on Earth, but the cost and difficulty of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to downlink and process the data has historically been prohibitive for all but the most well-funded organisations,” said Shayn Hawthorne, general manager of AWS Ground Station. “The goal of AWS Ground Station is to make space communications ubiquitous and to make ground stations simple and easy to use, so that more organisations can derive insights from satellite data to help improve life on Earth and embark on deeper exploration and discovery in space. Customers can rely on AWS Ground Station’s global footprint to downlink data when and where they need them, get timely data, and build new applications faster based on readily available satellite data, without having to buy, lease and maintain complex and expensive infrastructure.”
Ground Station’s self-service graphical interface makes it easy to identify downlink opportunities and communications windows, and schedule antenna time. This lets users review confirmed times in the console and cancel or reschedule prior to the scheduled contact time.
Because the antennas are close to AWS regions, users have low-latency, local access to other AWS services to process and store data. For example, they can use EC2 to control satellites and downlink data, store and share the data in Amazon EBS elastic block store, Amazon EFS elastic file system or Amazon S3, use Amazon VPC virtual private cloud for secure communications between EC2 instances and the Ground Station antenna gateway, hunt for real-time business insights with Amazon Kinesis data streams and elastic map reduce, apply machine learning algorithms and models with Amazon SageMaker, add image analysis with Amazon Rekognition, and improve data sets by combining satellite data with IoT sensor data from AWS IoT Greengrass.
AWS Ground Station is available immediately in Ohio and Oregon and will expand to additional regions and locations in the coming year.