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Microsoft introduces Azure Orbital and competes with Amazon to attach satellites to the cloud

An AWS Ground Station satellite antenna in one of the company's data centers in Boardman, Oregon.


Microsoft will offer a new service called Azure Orbital, which connects satellites directly to its cloud computing network, the company announced at its Ignite conference on Tuesday.

The service begins in a "private preview" for a select group of Microsoft customers. Earlier this month, CNBC reported on Microsoft's plans to question the Ground Station service available on Amazon Web Services. Amazon and Microsoft are the two largest providers of cloud infrastructures, with data centers in remote locations that can host websites and run applications with a variety of computing and storage services.

"With access to global fiber optic networks with low latency and the global size of Microsoft's cloud services, customers can innovate quickly with large satellite data sets," wrote Yves Pitsch, chief product manager at Microsoft, in a blog post. "The cloud is of central importance for modern communication scenarios for remote operations as well as for collecting, processing and distributing the enormous amounts of data from space."

Azure Orbital has signed the satellite companies Amergint, Kratos, Kongsberg Satellite Services and Viasat as partners, Pitsch wrote.

Where Microsoft plans to build the first Azure Orbital ground stations, most of which, according to the company, are "already in the works".


In documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission last month, Microsoft outlined its intention to build a network of ground stations and show satellite operators the potential benefits of connecting to its Azure cloud. The FCC has authorized Microsoft to conduct proof-of-concept demonstrations of the service. The company plans to hook up a Spanish imaging satellite to two ground stations – both in Microsoft's home state, Washington – to demonstrate that satellite data can be downloaded directly to the Azure cloud for immediate processing, "the documents read. Microsoft suggested one of the two ground stations himself in his data center in Quincy, Wash.

Amazon leads the growing cloud computing market at 45% in 2019, while Microsoft had around 18%, according to Gartner, a technology industry research company. The announcement of Microsoft Azure Orbital comes almost two years after AWS launched Ground Station.

The cloud infrastructure provides most of Amazon's operating income. In Microsoft's case, Azure is growing faster than other major products like Windows.

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