AWS launches a base station for satellites as a service

Today at AWS Re:invent in Las Vegas, AWS announced a new service for satellite providers with the launch of AWS Ground Station, the first fully-managed ground station as a service.

With this new service, AWS will provide ground antennas through their existing network of worldwide availability zones, as well as data processing services to simplify the entire data retrieval and processing process for satellite companies, or for others who consume the satellite data.

Satellite operators need to get data down from the satellite, process it and then make it available for developers to use in applications. In that regard, it’s not that much different from any IoT device. It just so happens that these are flying around in space.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy pointed out that they hadn’t really considered a service like this until they had customers asking for it. “Customers said that we have so much data in space with so many applications that want to use that data. Why don’t you make it easier,” Jassy said. He said they thought about that and figured they could put their vast worldwide network to bear on the problem. .

Prior to this service, companies had to build these base stations themselves to get the data down from the satellites as they passed over the base stations on earth wherever those base stations happened to be. It required that providers buy land and build the hardware, then deal with the data themselves. By offering this as a managed service, it greatly simplifies every aspect of the workflow.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says that the service will help put the satellite data into the hands of developers faster. “To rule real world application use cases you need to make maps and real-time spatial data available in an easy-to-consume, real time and affordable way,” Mueller told TechCrunch. This is precisely the type of data, you can get from satellites.

The value proposition of any cloud service has always been about reducing the resource allocation required by a company to achieve a goal. With AWS Ground Station, AWS handles every aspect of the satellite data retrieval and processing operation for the company, greatly reducing the cost and complexity associated with it.

AWS claims it can save up to 80 percent by using an on-demand model over ownership. They are starting with two ground stations today as they launch the service, but plan to expand it to 12 by the middle of next year.

Customers and partners involved in the Ground Station preview included Lockheed Martin, Open Cosmos, HawkEye360 and DigitalGlobe, among others.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage


HPE and NASA make supercomputer on ISS available for experiments

Last year, HPE successfully built and installed a supercomputer on the International Space Station that could withstand the rigors of being in space. Today, the company announced that it is making that computer available for earth-based developers and scientists to conduct experiments.

Mark Fernandez, who has the lofty title of America’s HPC Technology Officer at HPE, says that the project was born with the idea that if we eventually go to Mars, we will need computers that can withstand the travel conditions of being in space for extended periods of time.

What’s more, because space computers have traditionally lacked the sophistication of earth-based computers, they conduct some of the work in space and then complete the calculations on earth. With an eye toward a Mars trip, this approach would not be feasible due to the distances and latency that would be involved. They needed a computer that could handle processing at the edge (in place) without sending data back to earth.

The original idea was to build a supercomputer with the state of the art off-the-shelf parts as and install it on the ISS as an experiment to see if this could work. They built the one teraflop computer in the summer of 2017 and launched it into space on a SpaceX rocket. The computer was built with Intel Broadwell processors, which Fernandez says were the best available at the time.

The first step was to see if the computer they built could handle the launch, the cold temperatures of waiting to be on-boarded, the solar radiation and generally uncommon conditions of being in space.

Once installed, they needed to figure out if this computer could operate in the power and cooling environment available onboard the ISS, which is not close to what you would have in earth-based datacenter with a highly controlled environment. Finally, once installed, would the computer operate correctly and give accurate answers.

The special sauce here was a package of software they call Hardened with Software. “We wrote a thin, lightweight way suite of software to quote-unquote, harden our systems of software, so you can take state of the art with you,” he said.

The computer was launched in August 2017 and has been operating ever since, and Fernandez says that it has worked according to plan. “So we’ve achieved our signed, dated and contracted mission. We have a one teraflop supercomputer on board the International Space Station with Intel Broadwell processors.” He says that supercomputer has flown around the earth 6000 times since launch.

The company now wants to open this computer up as a kind of service to earth-based developers and scientists to experiment with high-latency jobs that would have required some processing on earth. With the HPE Spaceborne Computer available to use, they can see what processing this information at the edge would be like (and if it would work). The computer will be in operation until some time next year, and in the meantime interested parties need to apply to HPE and NASA to get involved.


Descartes Labs raises $30 million Series B for its brand of geospatial analytics

 Descartes Labs is announcing a $30 million Series B this morning in a large round led by March Capital. This comes just three months after one of Descartes’ largest competitors, Orbital Insight, closed its own $50 million Series C with Sequoia. Both Descartes and Orbital are playing in the emerging market of geospatial analytics. These companies use machine learning to produce insights… Read More


Orbital Insight closes $50M Series C led by Sequoia

 Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics startup, announced it had completed raising a $50 million Series C round of financing from Sequoia. The fresh capital brings the company’s total fundraising to $78.7 million. Read More


Commission your own traffic and construction studies without ever leaving bed using SpaceKnow

 The number of things that can be done from the comfort of one’s own bed has increased in recent years — shopping, banking and now geospatial analytics. Ok, it doesn’t sound sexy but it might give you a leg up the next time your friend starts an arcane argument with you over whose neighborhood historically has more vehicles on the road. With SpaceKnow’s online… Read More


TellusLabs wants to help us better understand our planet

cascades-and-agriculture-aug-2016 If you’ve spent time following companies like Orbital Insight and Descartes Labs, you might assume the geospatial analytics race has been won. But TellusLabs thinks, on the contrary, that the table hasn’t even started to cool. Armed with $3 million in new seed funding from IA Ventures and an investor group including Hyperplane VC, FounderCollective and Project11, the… Read More


Russian Cosmonaut Museum

DSC_0104In 2015, we spent a couple of weeks in Western Russia, including some spectacular days in Moscow. As a space-nut, there was no way I was going to miss a trip to the Memorial Museum to Cosmonauts. We braved a 3-line trip through Moscow's subways (which are incredibly clean and efficient, by the way), and were confronted by this huge memorial. The museum is underground, beneath it.

There were no English speaking guides, and though some of the exhibit signs were in English, most were not, and it took all my space knowledge to piece together what we were looking at. 


Outside the museum is an avenue of statues and busts of famous space pioneers and cosmonauts. Standing at the entrance was this fellow, Sergei Korolev, regarded by many as the father of astronautics. He worked as the lead rocket engineer and designer for the Soviets during the Space Race in the 1950's and 1960's. 





Below are Strelka and Belka. They were launched into orbit on 19th August 1960 aboard Korabl-Sputnik 2 sat atop a Vostok-L carrier rocket. The two dogs were accompanied by some mice, rats and plants. They were recovered safely and in 1961, when Strelka had a litter of puppies, one was sent to Jacqueline Kennedy as a goodwill present.


Talking of Sputnik, below is a breakaway model of Sputnik 1. Sputnik 1 is of course famous as the first spacecraft to leave Earth's atmosphere on 4th October 1957. Each orbit took 96 minutes, during which everyone on Earth could listen to the beep-beep of its radio transmitter. After 21 days it fell silent, its battery exhausted. Sputnik 1 itself spent 3 months in orbit before burning up in the atmopshere.


Below is a Vostok capsule. This one is probably the Vostok 3KA used to carry a single dog into orbit. In a larger size, the Vostok capsules would go on to carry the first man into space in 1961, Yuri Gagarin. As you can see, this one is pretty small – I'm almost fatter than it is!


Below is Venera 9, one of my all time favourite unmanned space missions. The Venera series orbited and dispatched landers through the impenetrable Venusian atmosphere to the horrendously hot surface of Venus. This exhibit is shown without the huge solar panels and communications dish. Venera 9 entered Venus orbit on October 20th 1975. That egg shaped bulge at the left end is the lander and descent module. Though other Venera probes had landed successfully on the surface of Venus, Venera 9 was the first probe to return images from the surface of another planet. It lasted only 53 minutes before succumbing to the intense heat and pressure.


Below is Zond. This series of planetary probes were launched by the Soviets between 1964 and 1970. Zond 1 flew by Venus, Zond 2 went to Mars, but then the remainder of the series, up to Zond 8, were repurposed to study the Moon for the Soviet moon program.


Everyone know what this famous space station is? MIR. A series of 7 modules launched and joined in orbit. MIR had an operational life from 1986 to 2001, during which astronauts from several nations (including the USA) spent time there with the Russian cosmonauts.


And below is a life size replica of the MIR Core Module, the first component to be launched in 1986. It contained living quarters and a spherical airlock/docking port, onto which the later modules were attached. It was fun to walk about on this and see just how cramped it was.


Below is Luna 17. It landed in the Sea of Rains on the Moon on 17th November 1970. As well as collecting and analyzing soil samples, it deployed the first robotic rover, Lunokhod 1.


And here is Lunokhod, and it's completely massive! I guess the Luna 17 lander was considerably larger than it looks. Lunokhod 1 survived for almost a year and travelled 10.5 km across the Lunar surface. Lunokhod 2 travelled 35km near the edge of the Sea of Serenity.


A couple more pictures: First an inside view of the cramped Soyuz capsule, the mainstay of the Russian space program and still used to ferry astronauts between Earth and the ISS.


And a mockup of a Russian lunar lander.



The Europas — It’s time for a different kind of tech conference

awards3 (1) Let’s face it. Some tech conferences have lost their way. While TechCrunch Disrupt remains a firmly curated, media-driven, event, with hundreds of journalists attending, a couple of other conferences have really gone for scale. A minimum of 15,000 people, thousands of companies, echoing halls — and a lot of investors (and journalists) turning their badges around so they don’t… Read More

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