Amazon Launches Massive Satellite Design Effort (Building B2B Platforms Too?)

Back in September, we found that Amazon was hiring engineers to help build “a big, audacious space project” involving “building, owning and operating satellite and space systems.” In November, Amazon announced AWS Ground Station, a network of 12 antennas that customers can use to download and process data directly from satellites into AWS.

However, it turns out at AWS Ground Station is itself just part of a larger, more ambitious space and satellite project. Amazon has confirmed Project Kuiper, a business it has formed to develop a network of thousands of satellites designed to provide internet connectivity to people around the world, after GeekWire uncovered filings made with the International Telecommunications Union and FCC.

While Amazon has publicly confirmed the project, it has not said how it plans to procure thousands of satellites or whether the company is planning to design and build its own satellite platform in-house. However, based on dozens of new job posts we are seeing, it seems clear that Amazon is planning to design its own satellites in-house from scratch.

Since Amazon made the Project Kuiper announcement, it has posted about 70 spacecraft and satellite engineering positions associated with the project, ranging across everything from propulsion to antennas all the way down to custom silicon. Here are just a handful of examples:

This means Amazon will likely be drawing talent from and competing for talent with other commercial and military spacecraft design firms, including SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and many others.

While Amazon’s consumer ISP offering is likely to be offered under Amazon’s brand, we also see a future in which Amazon leverages its expertise and AWS integration capabilities to offer satellite-based services through an expanded AWS space offering. Amazon has proven its ability to build a highly modular and complex system of cloud-based services based on systems originally designed for its own consumer services. Dog-fooding its own satellite hardware before developing new satellite platforms in order to offer additional capabilities to business customers as a service would not be strategically unprecedented.

Above image credit: NASA

Amazon Launches AWS Ground Station, an On Demand Satellite Connectivity Service

Back in September we found that Amazon was developing new space and satellite services for a “big, audacious space project.” We didn’t know what those new services would be exactly at the time, other than that Amazon wanted to build, “highly available, massively scalable, real time satellite data processing systems” for “thousands of commercial and government customers.”

Today, we know what at least part of AWS’s space ambitions include. Amazon just announced the launch of AWS Ground Station, “a fully managed service that lets you control satellite communications, downlink and process satellite data, and scale your satellite operations quickly, easily and cost-effectively without having to worry about building or managing your own ground station infrastructure.”

Using AWS Ground Station, customers can download data from satellites using AWS’s managed network of 12 ground station antennas located around the world. Customers can schedule antenna access time in the AWS Management Console. Once the data is down, it can then be processed in an EC2 instance or stored in S3.

“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. A few years back our customers asked us if we could remove that cost and complexity, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized that AWS with its global footprint was uniquely positioned to solve this challenge,” 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. And, they will be able to ingest data straight into AWS, where they can securely store, analyze, and transmit products to their customers without needing to worry about building all of the infrastructure themselves.”

AWS says initial customers include DigitalGlobe, BlackSky, and Spire Global.

In addition, AWS and Lockheed Martin today announced a “strategic collaboration” to integrate AWS Ground Station with Lockheed Martin’s Verge antenna network.

Amazon says that through the integration, “Customers using AWS Ground Station gain the ability to download data from multiple satellites at the same time and to continue downloading data even when unplanned outages like a weather event impact parts of the network… Immediate and continuous access to the latest satellite data is critical in use cases such as public safety, military missions in fast-evolving threat environments, and real-time weather observations for cargo ships and airlines. Today, there are thousands of satellites orbiting the earth and collecting data, including Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which are ideal for collecting data for Earth observation and currently comprise about 63 percent of the active satellites now in orbit, according to United Nations data.”

We’ll continue tracking Amazon’s space and satellite efforts.

Amazon Also Working On “Big, Audacious Space Project” in Denver

Two days ago, we reported that Amazon is developing new space and satellite services, as evidenced by two recent job listings for positions in Amazon’s Herndon, Virginia offices that have since been taken down.

Today, we are seeing another job posting for a similar position, titled Space and Satellite System Software Development Engineer, this time in Amazon’s Denver offices.

Like the Herndon positions, the Denver position states it is looking for software engineers for “a big, audacious space project!” — and that the team is building “a new AWS service that will have a historic impact.” The listing goes on:

“We are seeking a Software Development Engineer to build and maintain highly available, massively scalable, real time satellite data processing systems! This team will have the opportunity to work on highly visible projects that directly impact both Amazon teams and Amazon customers around the world as we build space processing services and features used by thousands of commercial and government customers each week.”

AWS is hiring for many technical positions with security clearances in Denver, and is also looking to hire veterans with active security clearances from area US Air Force bases. For example, next Thursday, Amazon is hosting a Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

The host unit at Buckley is the 460th Space Wing, which is assigned to the Air Force Space Command. The 460th Space Wing provides global surveillance, missile warning, missile defense, intelligence, satellite command and control, satellite communications, and other capabilities.

NORAD is also headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, home of the 21st Space Wing, just east of Colorado Springs and about 70 miles south of Denver. The 21st Space Wing operates a “complex system of U.S. and foreign-based radars that detect and track ballistic missile launches, launches of new space systems, and provide data on foreign ballistic missile events.” The nearby Cheyenne Mountain Complex is NORAD’s Alternate Command Center.

Additional potential space and satellite customers for AWS solutions in the Denver area include United Launch Alliance, which launches Atlas and Delta rockets and is headquartered in Centennial, and Lockheed Martin, which is building its Orion deep space exploration vehicle (amongst other projects) in Denver. In addition, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Harris, Ball, Sierra Nevada, and over 100 other aerospace contractors with a direct employment of over 21,000 (per the Metro Denver EDC) are located in the area.

Just three weeks ago, the Colorado Air and Space Port was granted its site operator license from the FAA. The site is located at the former Front Range Airport, a short distance from Denver International Airport and about 30 minutes from downtown. Per the Colorado Space Coalition:

“Colorado Air and Space Port will accommodate vehicles making horizontal takeoffs and landings. The vehicles will take off like traditional airplanes using jet fuel and fly to a special-use airspace where rocket boosters launch the craft into suborbital flight. To land, the craft drops out of suborbital flight and lands like a traditional airplane.”

The Colorado Space Coalition adds that the licensing process is “layered” and that, “A space company will have to apply to be licensed as an operator at the spaceport, and the vehicle that company employs for suborbital flight will also be approved and licensed.” No word yet on when exactly operations might begin.

(On a related note, Boom Supersonic, which is attempting to resuscitate mainstream supersonic passenger flight since British Airways and Air France halted Concorde operations in 2003, is also headquartered in Denver.)

We’ll continue tracking Amazon’s space efforts, so stay tuned to TJI. The full job listing posted by Amazon can be read below:

Above image credit: NASA

Amazon Developing New Space and Satellite Services

Over the last several years, AWS has grown to play an increasing role in enterprise and federal government IT infrastructure. Now, Amazon is planning to expand its efforts in space as well.

According to an Amazon job posting, the company is building a “new AWS service that will have a historic impact.”

The listing, titled Space and Satellite System Software Development Engineer, goes on:

AWS, the world leader in providing a highly reliable, scalable, low-cost infrastructure platform in the cloud that powers hundreds of thousands of businesses in 190 countries around the world, needs software development experts who want to be part of a big, audacious space project!

We are seeking a Software Development Engineer to build and maintain highly available, massively scalable, real time satellite data processing systems! This team will have the opportunity to work on highly visible projects that directly impact both Amazon teams and Amazon customers around the world as we build space processing services and features used by thousands of commercial and government customers each week.

In another job posting, Amazon asks, “Are you passionate about building, owning and operating satellite and space systems and ready to make another game-changing technology? If the answer is yes, then Amazon Web Services (AWS) has an exciting opportunity for you.”

That listing, titled Space and Satellite Product Manager – Technical, goes on (emphasis ours):

For this role we need a Product Manager to help us develop services and features that enable our customers to integrate their space systems with Amazon’s massive-scale data center networks. These products will provide high bandwidth and low latency solutions for networking launch vehicles, aggregating satellite systems, inter-connecting space system networks, and enabling management and monitoring of all satellite control network devices and critical data center infrastructure. As a leader within this new business line, you’ll join other thought leaders to work hard, have fun, and make history building new space services.

Both positions are based in Amazon’s Herndon, Virginia offices. (Update: These listings appear to now be removed from the Amazon.jobs site. See our screenshots of them below.)

Jeff Bezos is reputed to have had a lifelong interest in space and separately owns Blue Origin, but this is the first time we’ve seen Amazon specifically target the space and satellite markets with new products and services.

Earlier this year, Jamie Baker, Health & Science leader at AWS, while on the AWS Public Sector podcast, hinted at the impact that on-demand computing infrastructure can have on satellite applications. And this summer, at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, DC, Amazon invited members of the government and commercial space industries to discuss topics related to space and cloud infrastructure.

We’ll continue tracking Amazon’s space efforts, so stay tuned. The full job listings posted by Amazon can be read below:

 

Above image credit: NASA