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Microsoft Azure Goes Beyond Cloud, Launches New Space SDK

Azure has opened developer access to space with the Orbital Space SDK.
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2022 has been a landmark year for space technology, especially in India. From a spacecraft manufacturing facility being built in Bengaluru, to a successful liftoff of ISRO’s Vyommitra—India has been a hotbed of technology advancements in the space sector. Indian startups have been working overtime to put India on the space map. For example, AgniKul, who created a 3D printed semi-cryo engine, and Skyroot, which launched Vikram-S, the first rocket launched by a private sector company in India. 

Big tech companies are also leaping on the space bandwagon, with the foremost among them being Microsoft. After a partnership with NASA earlier this year, the cloud service provider expressed their goals to bring space development to the masses. To this end, they have launched a software development kit with the goal of deploying on-orbit applications.

Introducing Azure Orbital Space SDK 

The Azure Orbital Space SDK democratises access to space development by offering a secure hosting platform and application toolkit to developers, which they can then use to create, test, and deploy applications that will work on space hardware. The platform comprises two parts: the host platform, which runs on the spacecraft itself. This then connects to the Azure cloud platform, which makes up the other part of the puzzle. 

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Microsoft has provided templates, sample code, and robust documentation to start uncovering this previously unexplored paradigm of development. For example, common workloads are made into templates to allow developers to deploy solutions faster. The kit also comes with a “virtual test harness”, allowing developers to test their applications before deploying them on the spacecraft.

Applications 

Microsoft also specified some common satellite use cases that can be further optimised with the advent of artificial intelligence at the edge. For example, remote sensing satellites—which are commonly used for surveillance—have been limited by bandwidth concerns. However, deploying an AI solution aboard the satellite can allow it to prioritise useful images or share only insights to ground control. 


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In another example, the cloud service provider also showed how certain communication satellites could be managed better with smarter algorithms. This can result in huge cost savings for communications service providers. In addition to the Orbital Space SDK, satellites can also use the cloud service provider’s Orbital cloud products to further optimise the flow of data to and from the satellites.

Partnerships with Spacetech companies 

To create this SDK, they have also partnered with other space companies under the Azure Space Partner Community program. These partners provide important services to Azure. Primary among them is a company named Xplore, which will provide Microsoft with a bevy of data that will allow them to gain knowledge about on-orbit compute use-cases, downlink optimisation and more. 

They have also partnered with Loft Orbital, a company that offers modular solutions for putting payloads into orbit. Earlier this year, they conducted a test with the company where they launched a spacecraft and integrated it successfully with the Azure Orbital Ground station. Now, they are planning to launch a spacecraft known as YAM-6, which will become the testbed for the various applications that Azure can bring to the space sector.

In addition to these companies, Azure has also partnered with other companies to handle the hardware behind these orbital services. Ball Aerospace is a systems integrator with a history of designing government satellite programmes and will help Azure demonstrate reconfigurable on-orbit processing technologies. Thales Alenia Space is another company that specialises in developing high-power computing solutions for deploying in space. Through the partnerships, they will launch a testbed that will launch to the International Space Station in late 2023. 

What’s next?

In a statement at the launch of the Orbital service, Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer at Microsoft Azure said,

“Essentially, we’re building a ‘ground station as a service’. When it comes to cloud and data processing, obviously the cloud is a key part of any solution that goes into leveraging satellites.”

The Azure Orbital SDK is an integral step in opening up space development to the masses, as it gives developers an idea of what they can expect when they are deploying an application in space. Similar to how cloud service democratised access to large amounts of scalable resources, Azure aims to offer this service to open up access for space companies and enable the optimisation of space resources.

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Anirudh VK
I am an AI enthusiast and love keeping up with the latest events in the space. I love video games and pizza.

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