Earlier this year, we announced our vision to empower any developer to become a space developer through Azure. With over 90 million developers on GitHub, we have created a powerful ecosystem and we are focused on empowering the next generation of developers for space. Today, we are announcing a crucial step towards democratizing access to space development, with the preview release of Azure Orbital Space SDK (software development kit)—a secure hosting platform and application toolkit designed to enable developers to create, deploy, and operate applications on-orbit.
By bringing modern cloud-based applications to spacecrafts we not only increase the efficiency, value, and speed of insights from space data but also increase the value of that data through the optimization of ground communication.
Many of the fundamental technological improvements that have accelerated the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) in the past decade remain untapped by space development missions today. With the Azure Orbital Space SDK, we will help bring those improvements to space through modern agile software deployment, container-based development, use of higher-level languages, and cloud-managed networking. Extending the power of the Azure cloud into space means that spacecraft development will take less time, cost less, and bring more people into the space development ecosystem.
What is the Azure Orbital Space SDK?
The Azure Orbital Space SDK was created to be able to run on any spacecraft and provide a secure hosting platform and application kit to create, deploy, and operate applications on-orbit. This “host platform” runs onboard the spacecraft including a containerized, scalable compute infrastructure with resource and schedule management capabilities.
The application kit provides a set of templates, samples, and documentation to make it easy to get up and running as a space developer with template applications for common workload patterns, such as earth observation image processing. There is also a “virtual test harness” that allows developers to easily test their applications on the ground against an instance of the host platform.
How the Azure Orbital Space SDK is changing what’s possible
By moving the application onboard the spacecraft through the Azure Orbital Space SDK, we enable time and cost savings while radically altering and expanding the capabilities of the spacecraft.
Remote sensing from space provides the perspective we need to better understand our world and powers commercial, economic, humanitarian, intelligence, and military scenarios—from damage assessments after weather events, to vessel detection, to crop monitoring and land classification.
Most remote sensing satellites have limited connectivity windows and bandwidth to communicate data back to the ground. As the fidelity of sensors increases, the amount of data they generate eclipses the available bandwidth. Being able to prioritize images that are useful, or even being able to send insights rather than the raw data down to the ground significantly reduces costs, accelerates speed, and fundamentally increases the value of the satellite.
Through the Azure Orbital Space SDK, developers can write and host more intelligent applications on-board satellites, meaning that they can capture data and use time more efficiently, and even autonomously reconfigure applications at the ultimate edge. Instead of building a unique solution each time developers deploy a spacecraft application, the Azure Orbital Space SDK creates a common template for performing imaging tasks, making it easier to transfer models and applications from one satellite configuration to another.
Satellite communications is one of the most well-known and widely used space capabilities. It allows us to watch live events around the world, provides internet and cloud connectivity to remote locations both on earth and in space, and supports the backbone of cellular networks. By bringing applications and intelligent computing on board satellites through the Azure Orbital Space SDK, we enable a more sophisticated management of satellite communications – resulting in lower costs and higher efficiency for satellite-based communication networks
Telecommunications networks have transitioned to software-defined networks and application–centric approaches to manage their communications infrastructures. The inclusion of satellites in 5G standards is the push for satellite networks to follow the same digital transformation. The Azure Orbital Space SDK will provide a compute fabric with networking capabilities for hosting telecommunication workloads, allowing operators to move applications more easily from ground-based cell sites to satellites in orbit, enabling better resiliency and network utilization.
Ultimately, by combining the Azure Orbital Space SDK with our portfolio of Azure Orbital products, we are bringing the power of cloud networking to the edge in space.
Azure Orbital Space SDK Partnerships
In April, we launched the Azure Space Partner Community and unveiled our initial cohort of space community partners, including Loft Orbital, Ball Aerospace and Thales Alenia Space. Today, we are announcing the newest member of our partner community—Xplore—who will help us continue to shape the future of space technologies and services.
Xplore provides unique data including optical, video, and hyperspectral imagery via the XCRAFT, its highly capable, multi-sensor satellite. The XCRAFT’s sophisticated sensors produce terabytes of data per day and will utilize powerful compute, storage, and communication solutions to deliver the unique insights derived to customers.
Microsoft and Xplore are partnering to use Azure Orbital Space SDK to gather new insights into how edge computing solutions can better enable both government and commercial customers to achieve their mission objectives. Together, our teams will investigate numerous on-orbit compute use-cases from downlink optimization to multi-sensor data fusion.
Loft Orbital is a space infrastructure and services company providing customers rapid, reliable, and simplified access to space. Loft has developed a highly modular satellite platform that enables them to provide a truly plug and play path to orbit for customer payloads and missions.
The Microsoft and Loft Orbital partnership will enable developers to easily develop, test, and deploy software-only “virtual payloads” to the Loft Orbital infrastructure. Together we are developing new technologies and products that will enhance the flexibility of on-orbit operations and provide seamless connectivity to the terrestrial cloud.
Earlier this year Microsoft and Loft conducted a successful test of demonstrating the integration of Loft spacecraft with the Azure Orbital Ground station. Next year, we’ll build upon this success with the launch of YAM-6, a dedicated free-flying orbital testbed for customers to explore how our joint space infrastructure, connectivity, and on-orbit compute technologies will make access to space even easier than before.
Ball Aerospace is a systems integrator with a heritage of designing and building government satellite programs and mission applications. Ball continues to innovate on behalf of its customers by combining their long expertise in exquisite satellite systems with modern tools and processes, enabling a more agile approach to space mission development and operations.
Together, Ball Aerospace and Microsoft are collaborating on the execution of series of on-orbit testbed satellites showcasing this highly agile future. These missions will leverage the Azure Orbital Space SDK to demonstrate modular and reconfigurable on-orbit processing technologies, necessary to support the complex missions for the United States Government. The new software and hardware technologies demonstrated in these testbeds will unlock new capabilities for customers, granting the ability to support future concepts for smaller, agile, multi-mission capabilities across all federal space programs.
Thales Alenia Space
Microsoft is partnering with Thales Alenia Space to demonstrate and validate on-orbit compute technologies for multiple remote-sensing applications. Our team’s future orbital testbed, launching to the International Space Station (ISS) in late 2023, brings together Thale’s edge computing hardware and Microsoft’s Azure Orbital Space SDK platform with visible and hyperspectral sensors, empowering the next generation to explore how space and on-orbit compute can improve our world. Developers on our platform will explore different on-orbit compute use cases, from AI-based hyperspectral image processing and to multi-sensor fusion algorithms, both computationally demanding workloads that benefit from Thales Alenia’s high-performance edge compute architecture.
In collaboration with Microsoft Research (MSR), Microsoft, and Thales Alenia Space, we are reducing the barriers for research in space through a range of outreach initiatives. One such initiative is the new Azure Space Academic Outreach program, that will work with research teams in remote sensing, computer vision, and climate science to demonstrate the potential of next-generation on-orbit compute for Earth observation. The first pilots exploring this program are the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and NSF Spatiotemporal Innovation Center; however, we hope to open this up to more participants over the coming year.
What we’ve done and what’s coming next
The Azure Orbital Space SDK is a key part of the Azure Space portfolio and joins our investments together to create a value chain that is unique in the industry today—from space to ground to cloud. Over the past two years we’ve moved from a vision of combining the power of the cloud with the possibilities of space, into a reality with the launch of our our Azure Orbital Ground Station, the recently announced Azure Orbital Cloud Access, and today the Azure Orbital Space SDK. Integral to Microsoft‘s approach across these announcements has been partnership, and we have partnered with space industry leaders to deliver incredible value to our customers, with most recently the partnership with DIU to support their hybrid space architecture and the development of the internet of space.
The Azure Orbital Space SDK will change what is possible onboard spacecraft, but also more importantly change the applications and insights we gather on earth and inform critical decisions and communications across the planet.
- For space companies interested in applying for preview access to Azure Orbital Space SDK, reach out to the Azure Space Partner Community.
- For universities interested in participating in on-orbit research for climate science, please reach out to the Azure Space Academic Outreach Program.
- To learn more about Azure Space view our solution page.