The ground segment must adopt cloud technologies in order to deliver space data in real time as satellite communications (satcom) providers order more powerful and flexible satellites, experts say.
Cloud providers and integrators have helped terrestrial network operators transition to automated network management via cloud-based virtualized network elements from manually managed hardware.
Those providers can apply lessons learned as satcoms go through a similar transition, Paul Tilghman, senior director of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Microsoft Azure, said recently during the webinar “Perspectives on Ground Segment Digitalization.”
For example, just as terrestrial networks transitioned from hardware switches to software-defined network switches, space connectivity providers will automate operations, moving away from manually slewing beams and manually apportioning ground station capacity.
In fact, Alphabet’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Amazon Web Services are already selling services to — and partnering with — space economy companies.
Software-defined satellites comprise 70% of geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellites ordered in 2021-2022, Pacome Revillon, chief executive of research firm Euroconsult, said during the webinar. Operators will demand compatible ground infrastructure in order to effectively use their satellites, and many will partner with cloud service providers, he added.
As companies move from delivering equipment to providing virtualized technologies, customers shift from hosting equipment to running virtualized technology in the cloud, Frederik Simoens, chief technology officer at space economy integrator ST Engineering iDirect, said during the webinar.
Flexible infrastructure, which can be used for more than one purpose, helps make the business case for investment, Simoens added.
Earth observation and IoT
New satellite applications require cloud storage and cloud computing to process data and rapidly deliver it to customers.
In the past, Earth observation data from failed passes could be picked up in an hour at another ground station. As operators demand data sooner, the ground segment must be able to handle the failure of components.
The Azure Orbital ground station as a service delivers that reliability by incorporating first- and third-party antennas connected to the cloud. Thus, if one component fails, there is a backup provided via automatic failover.
Additionally, internet of things (IoT) deployments will grow to billions of devices, “generating a myriad of disparate, uneven and more or less unpredictable traffic flows, which only cloud-based machines will have the scale and flexibility to process, and which somehow will have to be backhauled to data centers,” according to the webinar’s white paper “Time for Satellite to Embrace Cloud and Virtualization.”