Amazon activates ground station business with first two of 12 stations

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WASHINGTON — Some six months after announcing plans to disrupt the satellite ground station business, Amazon has started service at its first two sites.

Ground stations in Ohio and Oregon mark the first two of a planned 12 stations spread out globally to enable communication with satellites, allowing operators to downlink data such as imagery and weather. The stations also enable operators to control their satellites.

Shayn Hawthorne, general manager of AWS Ground Station, said customer demand drove the decision to start service with two stations. The next 10 are under construction now and will be complete by the end of the year, he said.

Hawthorne, in an interview, said that each ground station will have two antennas. Following this year, AWS plans to increase the number of ground stations beyond 12, as well as the number of antennas at each location, he said.

AWS is locating ground stations near its data storage centers, which provides customers with quick access to Amazon’s cloud services, should they choose to use them. AWS ground station customers can process their data, run analytics and leverage machine learning algorithms through the Amazon cloud.

In announcing the service launch, AWS highlighted eight early customers of the service — Capella Space, Spire, Maxar Technologies’ DigitalGlobe, Myriota, D-Orbit, NSLComm, Open Cosmos and Thales Alenia Space. Hawthorne said AWS’s ground station service has “lots of customers,” but declined to say how many specifically.

Hawthorne said he is not involved in Amazon’s broadband megaconstellation, and declined to comment on whether AWS will support the proposed low Earth orbit system of more than 3,000 satellites.

Hawthorne said AWS is completing regulatory licensing for ground stations in each country where it plans to build antennas. If prospective customers reach out to AWS about using its ground stations, AWS will “immediately” include them in its ground station license to pave the way for that customer, he said.

Over the next 10 years, AWS plans to expand to the “equivalent” of dish 200 antennas, Hawthorne said, so it can provide communication services to more spacecraft. Like other ground station companies, AWS is evaluating new technologies more advanced than today’s dish antennas, which can only connect to one satellite at a time. Many companies, including KSAT, Atlas Space Operations and Lockheed Martin are exploring the use of electronically steered antennas for ground stations, which while capable of multiple simultaneous connections, are also considerably more expensive. Hawthorne avoided mentioning electronically steered antennas as an interest of AWS, saying the company is intrigued by “varieties of technologies that we think would enable multi-access to satellites.”