An artist’s conception shows Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite in orbit. (Telesat illustration)
How will Pentagon planners deal with the streams of data expected to rain down from a constellation of satellites monitoring hotspots in orbit?
Microsoft and Ball Aerospace have shown that the cloud can handle it – and not just handle it, but also process multiple satellite data streams five times faster than the Pentagon’s target speed.
A prototype system demonstration was conducted earlier this year for the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit in support of CASINO (Commercial Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations Program Office), which is under the auspices of the Space and Missile Systems Center of the US Space Force.
For the purposes of the test, Telesat provided access to its satellite network in near-earth orbit. Ball Aerospace provided the event-driven architecture for handling the data radiated from space. And Microsoft Azure provided the cloud computing firepower to process the data and generate insights.
Telesat’s satellite sent up to 20 separate streams of simulated overhead persistent infrared sensor readings, also known as OPIR. Such streams of data could be critical to detecting and combating missile threats – but handling the flood of data is not an easy task.
“This prototype proved that low Earth orbit is a viable capability for the Space Force working with the cloud. Against the program goals set by the DIU, ground processing with space data is about five times faster with the Azure cloud, ”Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Azure Global, told GeekWire.
“We think it’s a pretty big deal,” said Keane.
The team was able to transmit OPIR data via Telesat’s satellites to Azure in the data center and directly to a tactical vehicle equipped with an Azure Stack Edge device. “This brings the ability to have satellite connectivity in a vehicle or even something that moves, like an airplane in flight,” said Keane.
The Microsoft Ball data processing demonstration showed that satellite data can be tied down and processed on a tactical vehicle. (Microsoft Photo)
Steve Smith, vice president and general manager of systems engineering solutions for Ball Aerospace, said the system could open new frontiers for satellite applications related to defense.
“We’ve been in ground processing for 30 years, so the idea of not having to build a building, not having to bring in processors, and not having to and not have to bring in warehouses This is your ground system … the ability to get away from it is exciting” said Smith. “The cloud becomes your ground system.”
When it comes to Microsoft’s ability to handle big data from satellites, CASINO isn’t the only game in town.
The Pentagon’s Advanced Defense Research Agency has a program called Blackjack that aims to develop a broadband satellite constellation in near-earth orbit for defense applications. Microsoft is part of a team working on the blackjack satellite mission management system known as the Pit Boss.
“I think it’s fair to say we continue to work with our partners to get more business and to compete for business,” said Keane.
Keane added that lessons learned from the CASINO project could also be used in commercial projects, including Microsoft Azure’s partnership with SpaceX and its Starlink satellite broadband network.
“The work we do here, experimenting, working with customers, is absolutely applicable to the partnerships we have elsewhere in space, like the Starlink partnership,” he said. “In fact, we demonstrated using a moving airframe using a ball antenna to use the Starlink array to communicate with Azure. So we used the Azure cloud capabilities along with Ball for an airframe in flight. “
Keane said next steps would focus on innovative ways to turn satellite data into deep insights – on the battlefield or in the office. “If we look at how we can deal with this data, with enhanced intelligence, with predictive analytics, the possibilities there become almost limitless,” he said.