Microsoft takes on Amazon in the data space race with Azure Orbital

23 Sep 2020

Image: © aapsky/

Microsoft’s new Azure Orbital platform aims to link up satellites in orbit with cloud services down on Earth.

Among the many other announcements at its Ignite event this week, Microsoft revealed a plan to encourage satellite operators to use its cloud systems through a new platform called Azure Orbital. In a blog post, the company said that this new ground station service will enable satellite operators to communicate with and control their satellites, process data and scale operations directly with Microsoft Azure.

Amergint, Kratos, KSAT, Kubos, Viasat and US Electrodynamics are the among the first partners to sign up to the new platform, and will test its capabilities before it can be made available to smaller satellite operators.

“Data collected from space to observe Earth is instrumental in helping address global challenges such as climate change and furthering of scientific discovery and innovation,” said Yves Pitsch, principal programme manager of Azure Networking at Microsoft.

“The cloud is central to both modern communications scenarios for remote operations and the gathering, processing and distributing the tremendous amounts of data from space.”

Crowded orbit

While Amazon has dominated in the cloud sector, making $10bn in cloud services revenue in the first quarter of this year alone, Azure Orbital now puts Microsoft in competition with Amazon in the data space race.

In 2018, Amazon’s cloud division, Amazon Web Services (AWS), announced a partnership with defence industry giant Lockheed Martin to roll out AWS Ground Station. Its purpose, AWS said at the time, was to significantly reduce the costs associated with needing access to Earth-based antennas for start-ups working in areas such as surface imaging and weather forecasting.

Ground Station launched last year with two ground station installations. In April, Ireland became one of two regions in the EU where Ground Station is available, along with Stockholm, Sweden.

Amazon also recently appointed a former White House National Security Council member as its first director of space policy, following the creation of its Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business unit within AWS earlier this year.

The company’s other major space endeavour, Project Kuiper, received approval in July to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites into orbit to provide broadband services to unserved communities around the world.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic