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Using the Cloud to Managing Space Force's Data Flow

Satellite internet hasn't always been known as reliable, fast, or efficient, but some recent innovations in the past few years might change that sooner than later. As services like Starlink begin to launch satellites into orbit and as military officials are seeing increased interest in using satellites for data-intensive applications, companies like Microsoft and Ball Aerospace are performing the preliminary tests to make sure this is all possible.

It's not something out of the latest sci-fi movie. Instead, this is an accurate depiction of the current state of satellite internet technology – and it's advancing by leaps and bounds.

Microsoft Plays a Major Role

Although SpaceX and Starlink are considered by many to be at the forefront of modern satellite internet, Microsoft has recently teamed up with Ball Aerospace to demonstrate the functionality of Microsoft Azure – the company's popular cloud service – and its ability to handle the massive amounts of data that will soon be incoming from satellites all across space. Thankfully for Microsoft and Ball Aerospace, the earliest tests are very promising.

Their latest demonstration was done for the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit, and it was meant specifically to support the Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations (CASINO) program office, which falls under the command of the U.S. Space Force and its Missile Systems Center.

For their recent test, Telesat let teams with Microsoft and Ball Aerospace access its low-orbit satellite network. Microsoft Azure delivered the cloud processing needing to collect, manage, and process data, while Ball Aerospace handled event-driven architecture for all the earthbound data.

During the test, up to 20 separate data streams were used – all of which simulated Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) sensor readings. Such data could be used in highly advanced defense applications, including the detection of incoming missile threats.

In a recent interview, Tom Keane, corporate vice president for Microsoft Azure Global, went into further detail about their recent tests by saying: "What this prototype did was prove out that low Earth orbit is a viable capability for the Space Force, working with the cloud. Against the program goals that the DIU set, the ground processing with space data is about five times faster with the Azure cloud."

As you might imagine, it's not easy to process all of this data. In this specific scenario, all of the data was ultimately transmitted to a Microsoft datacenter as well as a tactical vehicle featuring an Azure Stack Edge device. The latter is, essentially, a mobile datacenter that could, in theory, be located anywhere in the United States or across the globe.

Steve Smith, vice president and general manager for systems engineering solutions with Ball Aerospace, spoke about some of the potential by saying: "We’ve been in the ground processing business for 30 years, and so this idea of not having to build a building, and not having to haul in a bunch of processors, and not having to haul in a bunch of storage, and having that be your ground system. The capability of getting away from that is exciting."


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