Amazon to rent out communications antennas to satellite start-ups

28 Nov 2018

Image: © JohanSwanepoel/

Amazon’s foray into space continues as it announces a new network of Earth-based antennas to connect start-ups with satellites in orbit.

Amazon’s cloud division, Amazon Web Services (AWS), has announced a partnership with the defence industry giant Lockheed Martin to develop a new telecommunications system that could prove to be a major boon to a number of start-ups.

The project, called AWS Ground Station, will allow clients of the cloud division to download satellite data to a fully managed network of 12 ground station antennas located around the world.

Its purpose, AWS said, 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.

Typically, a company would either have to build or lease ground antennas to communicate with the satellites. There is also the issue of infrastructure requirements as start-ups need access to servers, storage and networking in close proximity to the antenna to process, store and transport the data from the satellite.

AWS claims that its new service will do all of this work for clients, and any of the 12 AWS ground stations around the world can quickly combine the data with other AWS services.

‘An interesting dynamic’

Lockheed Martin’s part in all of this is to provide the distributed antennas that would surpass the capabilities of existing dish antennas used to transmit the information back to Earth.

“Satellite data is incredibly useful for building a wide range of important applications, but it is super-complex and expensive to build and operate the infrastructure needed to do so,” said Charlie Bell, senior vice-president of AWS. “Today, we are giving satellite customers the ability to dynamically scale their ground station antenna use based on actual need.”

Speaking with SpaceNews, an industry analyst said that while the initiative looks promising, it is too early to tell how successful it might be. “The real service will begin once they bring additional ground stations online across the world to provide site diversity and increase the number of passes per day/per orbit,” the analyst said.

“We have already seen ground stations colocated with data centres, so the data storage element is not new, but the proposal of a seamless service across one provider for downlink, storage and data processing will present an interesting dynamic.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic