SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft offered further proof of its intent to play a growing role in the space sector by unveiling new Azure Space products and announcing partnerships with Airbus, Kongsberg Satellite Services, STE iDirect, Orbital Insight, ESRI and Blackshark.ai.
“Microsoft is serious about space, and we are expanding our partner ecosystem and innovation,” Steve Kitay, Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews.
One of the new partnership agreements announced Dec. 9 is with Airbus. Microsoft plans to bring Airbus’ high resolution satellite imagery and elevation data into Azure Maps, Microsoft’s geospatial services platform.
Specifically, Airbus will supply data from its Spot 1.5-meter resolution, Pleiades 50-centimeter resolution and Pleiades Neo 30-centimeter resolution satellite imagery, plus elevation data prepared for orthorectification from WorldDEM4Ortho.
“What’s exciting about this is it’s not just bringing the data,” Kitay said. “It’s then understanding the data and deriving insights from it.”
With that goal in mind, Microsoft forged partnerships with ESRI, Orbital Insight and Blackshark.ai, a startup that specializes in combines satellite imagery with artificial intelligence to create a digital twin of Earth.
“This is all about bringing data, geospatial analytics, AI and cloud performance into one place, easing access and providing simplicity to spaceborne data and AI to run in the cloud,” Kitay said.
Microsoft signaled its interest in the space sector in 2020 when it established Azure Orbital, the firm’s ground station as a service. Azure Orbital moves satellite data to the cloud for processing and storage.
After extensive testing through private previews, Microsoft is preparing to offer public previews of Azure Orbital.
“Now anyone can communicate and control satellites by using a global network of ground stations owned by Microsoft and our partners with no additional backhaul costs into Azure,” Kitay said.
Microsoft also is expanding its partnership with KSAT to include KSATlite ground stations, Kitay said. “This is going to expand next year with Viasat and [U.S. Electrodynamics Inc.]. This allows our customers to have a single application to have command and control into this global network, creating ease of use as well as efficiencies.”
In addition, Azure Space is working with ST Engineering iDirect “on satcom solutions for virtualized modems that can be easily deployed and used by our Azure Orbital customers,” Kitay said.
To demonstrate the power of the cloud and AI to enhance satellite imagery, Microsoft developed to new products. SpaceEye helps customers create daily imagery free of clouds. Turing applies super-resolution to satellite imagery to sharpen images and improve human perception of the imagery, according Microsoft’s Dec. 9 news release.