Home / Industry / Satellite Ground Segment as a Service (GSaaS) Industry driven by New Space requirements

Satellite Ground Segment as a Service (GSaaS) Industry driven by New Space requirements

The artificial satellite system has three operational components space segment,  user and ground segments).

(1) the space segment, referring to the space vehicle in orbit. Space segment comprises the satellite or satellite constellation and the uplink and downlink satellite links.
(2) the user segment, referring to end user devices that interact with the space segment, such as
GPS receivers; and
(3) the ground (or control) segment, referring to ground-based infrastructure required to
facilitate command and control of the space segment
The ground segment enables the management of a spacecraft, and the distribution of payload data and telemetry among interested parties on the ground. The primary elements of a ground segment are Ground (or Earth) stations, which provide radio interfaces with spacecraft; Mission control (or operations) centers, from which spacecraft are managed; Ground networks, which connect the other ground elements to one another; Remote terminals, used by support personnel; Spacecraft integration and test facilities and Launch facilities.

Ground Stations

The ground station provides the physical-layer infrastructure to communicate with the
space segment.  Located in various parts of the world, they support different types of satellites, depending on their inclination and orbit. For example, polar orbiting satellites need to connect with ground stations in the poles (e.g. Inuvik or Kiruna in the North Pole and Punta Arenas or Dongara in the South Pole), which provides rather long duration passes, enabling increased amount of data downloaded.

Where the spacecraft is a vehicle not in geostationary orbit, the mission may require numerous ground stations across the planet to maintain communications with the space segment throughout its orbit. The quantity of ground stations required varies depending on the purpose of the mission, including the required latency of communications.

The ground stations are made of one or more antennas, that enable satellite operators to communicate with the satellite, sending telecommands and downlinking telemetries (e.g. mission data, satellite status). This communication is performed all along satellite lifecycle, from Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP), going through commissioning, routine and critical operations, up to satellite end-of-life and decommissioning.

GS activities require investment and time

In order to perform ground segment activities, significant investment and efforts are required to build and maintain a dedicated ground segment, but also to deal with licensing issues. On the one hand, building, operating and maintaining a ground segment is an expensive endeavour that requires many resources including ground stations (i.e. antennas, modems, land) and dedicated personnel with specific skills. Building ground stations is particularly costly for high-frequency bands (requiring more expensive antennas) or satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Indeed, satellite operators having satellites in LEO usually require a global network of ground stations installed in multiple countries, in order to download data when and where they need it without having to wait for the satellite to pass over a desired location.

On the other hand, building a dedicated ground segment involves dealing with important regulatory constraints, especially to get licensing for both space and ground segments. Licensing is key to ensure that Radio Frequency (RF) interferences do not negatively impact satellite operators. Indeed, satellite signals can be overridden by a rogue or unlicensed system, which can jeopardize satellite operators’ activities and business. In order to ensure such a situation does not happen, licensing procedures are inherently demanding. Satellite operators not only have to deal with licensing of the space segment from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – in charge of spectrum assignment – but also to deal with licensing for the ground segment with the country in which they want to build and operate their ground station.

Moreover, an LEO satellite is accessible only during certain time slots from a given ground station. Indeed, satellite operators having satellites in LEO usually require a global network of ground stations installed in multiple countries, in order to download data when and where they need it without having to wait for the satellite to pass over the desired location. In other words, access to LEO satellites is intermittent and constrained by the availability of ground stations.

A trend in future space missions is on-demand, 24/7 access to orbiting satellites. For extremely low-cost, experimental space missions, this type of access coverage is not affordable. First, it is cost-prohibitive for these small missions to build their own ground stations let alone an entire network that provides global coverage. Industry ground stations capable of megabit-per-second downlinks have extensive specialized hardware components and, on average, cost several hundred thousand dollars.

In addition, investments in specific infrastructure (i.e. servers, networks, and power) are required to process, store, and ensure transport data. In the end, the cost of the ground segment over the entire satellite lifecycle can reach one-third of the total cost for large programs and can represent between 10 and 15% of satellite operators’ OPEX, according to industry experts. Consequently, such important expenses can make it difficult for satellite operators to invest in a wholly dedicated network.

Ground Station as a Service” (GSaaS)

The model “as a Service” “as a Service” (aaS) initially stems from the IT industry, and more specifically from cloud computing. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a well-known example of

“aaS” model, where infrastructure and hard, middle, and software are handled by cloud service providers and made available to customers over the Internet, on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. “aaS” offers various benefits to the customers, as it helps them minimize upfront investment while avoiding operation, maintenance, and other ownership costs. Customers can thus transform their
capital expenditure (CAPEX) into operational expenditure (OPEX). Considering such benefits, “aaS” has recently become widely spread even beyond the IT world, and into the ground segment industry.

Considering all the efforts required to ensure ground segment activities, satellite operators have already been outsourcing their activities to GS experts for decades. With New Space, the needs of satellite operators evolved: missions were shorter, satellite development time was dramatically reduced, and the budget dedicated to GS was much smaller.

GSaaS distinguishes itself offering enhanced flexibility, cost-effectiveness and simplicity.

GSaaS is a suitable solution for both satellite operators that already have ground stations (looking for complementary solution for punctual support or backup), and the ones that do not (looking for a reliable solution to ensure satellite contact). It offers GS services depending on the satellite operator’s needs, providing on-demand but also reserved contacts.

To meet the needs of an ever-expanding variety and number of spacecrafts, a flexible ground station network is needed. This includes flexibility in band, location, processing, antenna size, business model, and data.  

 

Simplicity

The interface and API are designed to be easy to use, to enable all types of satellite operators (e.g. universities, public and private) control their satellites. The API enables satellite operators to interact with the ground station network, determine their satellite parameters and constraints, retrieve the schedule of operations, as well as all the data collected.

 

Cost-effectiveness

GSaaS enables satellite operators to switch their CAPEX to OPEX, enabling them not to invest upfront in a wholly dedicated ground segment. Instead, they can choose the paying scheme that suits their needs the best, opting either for “pay as you use” or subscribing on a
monthly/annually-basis.

One way is to increase the reuse of existing assets. i.e. what if we could avoid capital expenditure (CAPEX) for the buildup of new antenna systems and instead use existing systems? Ground station virtualization aims exactly at this: reuse of existing antenna and interfacing assets. Instead of building new infrastructure a mission-selected ground station service provider could approach another ground station service provider and ask for access to their antenna system.

An idle antenna system does not earn money, one that is rented to another party does. This is a win-win situation: One entity brings along the customer, thus increasing the utilization
of the antenna system, while the other provides the infrastructure to provide the service.

 

Mission type

When it comes to satellite mission types, most GSaaS users are EO and Internet of Things (IoT) satellite operators. There are also technology satellites such as In orbit Demonstration (IoD) and In orbit Validation (IoV). EO satellites usually need to download as much data as possible and depending on their business, they look for near-real-time images. They however do not necessarily need low latency (i.e. maximum time between satellite data acquisition and reception by the user). For example, Eumetsat EO satellites in LEO have a latency of 30 minutes, which is enough to provide adequate services to their customers.

As compared to EO satellite operators, IoT satellite operator’s priority is more about number of
contacts, and they look for low latency (down to 15mn for Astrocast for example). They thus tend to select highly reliable GS that ensure satellite connection in a timely manner.

The need for GSaaS also depends on the orbit type. Indeed, as compared to GEO satellite operators that usually need few ground stations located in their targeted region to perform their mission, LEO satellite operators look for a global coverage.

 

Ground Segment value chain

In order to ensure such operations, a typical GS entails various infrastructure and activities that can be depicted using a value chain, made of three main blocks: upstream, midstream and downstream.

The three blocks are detailed as the following:

The upstream involves all the hardware and software components that enable mission operations. It encompasses ground stations (e.g. antennas, modems, radio, etc.) construction and maintenance, development of data systems (for ground station control, spacecraft control, mission planning and scheduling, flight dynamics, etc.), and the ground networks (i.e. infrastructure necessary to ensure connectivity among all operations GS elements),
– The midstream is composed of all activities that support mission operation. More specifically, it
encompasses the operation of the ground stations, performs spacecraft and payload Telemetry
Tracking and Control (TT&C), and the signal downlinking and data retrieving,
– The downstream encompasses all activities performed once the data is retrieved on Earth, that
include data storage, pre-processing (e.g. error corrections, timestamps, etc.), and all services based on data analytics.

New Space requirements for Ground stations

Space is becoming more dynamic than ever with mega-constellations, multi-orbit satellites, and software-defined payloads. The world’s demand for broadband connectivity has created a new generation of high-throughput satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), and now low Earth orbit (LEO).

The pace of technological change has led some to question whether the ground segment can keep up and avoid becoming the bottleneck between innovations in space and terrestrial networks including 5G. This is particularly important given the technological shift from the world of Geostationary Orbit (GEO)  to a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) world, where satellite’s relative motion throw up additional challenges.

Considering all the efforts required to ensure ground segment activities, satellite operators have already been outsourcing their activities to GS experts like SSC or KSAT for decades. Over time, these GS service providers have developed large networks of ground stations across the world, including in harsh environments, such as polar areas. These networks enabled them to offer comprehensive services to a wide variety of customers – whatever their satellite inclination, orbit (e.g. polar, LEO, GEO, etc.) or mission type.

GS providers could support their customers all along the mission lifetime (e.g. routine, LEOP, decommissioning), providing support not only for TT&C and data acquisition services in various bands, but also for many other services spanning hosting and maintenance services (i.e. install, operate and maintain a ground station on behalf of a satellite operator), licensing support (for space and ground segment), and data handling. GS service providers would thus provide their customers with a “top assurance level” offer. In exchange, satellite operators would agree to commit for various years, and pay relatively high price.

The New Space non-GEO constellations — in Low- or Medium-Earth orbit (LEO or MEO) — move across the sky, requiring multiple ground stations across the globe to stay in touch. “All these new constellations, these enormous numbers of new space vehicles, all need ground stations to service them, stay in contact, provide direct-to-Earth communications,” says John Heskett, the chief technology officer at Kongsberg Satellite Services ( KSAT).

And it’s not just the orbits. The new services that non-GEO constellations are getting into — like low latency communications, ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, or near real-time Earth Observation (EO) — also require globally dispersed ground stations, so that data can be downloaded in real-time.

NSR, a market research and consulting firm, estimates that cumulative revenues for the entire ground segment through 2028 will total $145 billion. The market will generate $14.4 billion annually by 2028, the firm states in its recent report, Commercial Satellite Ground Segment, 4th Edition (CSGS4). The user terminal will command a substantial portion of this spend.

With New Space, the needs of satellite operators evolved: missions were shorter, satellite development time was dramatically reduced, and the budget dedicated to GS was much smaller. The GS services offered by  incumbents were thus not adapted, deemed too complicated (notably because of international standards) and costly.

In the new multi-orbit world, says Carl Novello, CTO of NXT Communications Corp. (NXTCOMM), an Atlanta, Georgia area-based startup, the biggest challenge on the ground will be flexibility. Traditionally satellite operators have been tightly vertically integrated, with terminals designed to work with a single constellation across a relatively narrow portion of the spectrum. With operators adopting a multi-orbit approach, that increasingly won’t cut it.

“The challenge is how do you move from being a product that is relatively fit for a single purpose to becoming the Swiss Army knife of antennas?” Novello asks. “One that will work in GEO use cases and LEO use cases and MEO use cases, with different requirements for frequency bands, uplink power, different regulatory requirements to meet, and so on.” In other words, concludes Novello, “How do we build a better antenna fit for this brave new world of satellite connectivity?”

But advancements in technology are shifting the ground system from purpose-built, proprietary hardware architectures to software-defined, cloud-centric, and extensible virtual platforms that support multiple satellites, payloads and orbits on demand. This is being enabled by a series of innovations in antenna technology, waveform processing and system design, quietly starting a “New Ground” revolution down on Earth, as well.

But most startups don’t have the resources or the time to build out their own ground segment, explains Heskett. “These startups are on a very tight runway. They have six months to a year from the time they get their VC funding until they have to put something on a rocket,” he says. Even if they could afford to build out their own ground station network, they wouldn’t have the time to prototype, test, and integrate the technology.

In order to support increasing data volumes, the antenna systems and/or demodulation hardware get bigger and more complex. This drives the cost per contact. For missions that have a higher demand or have to meet certain timeliness requirements the only way out it to use more antenna systems at appropriate locations. At the same time missions are no longer willing to pay for dedicated ground station infrastructure. All these pieces along with the increasing interface complexity have severe consequences for ground station service providers: On one hand building up and maintaining antenna systems and their associated infrastructure is getting more expensive. On the other hand funding is decreasing.

Ground Segment as a Service

In order to fill in the gap between supply and demand, new GS services providers entered market, with the objective to offer New Space satellite operators a simple, elastic and cost-effective way to communicate with their satellite: GSaaS was born

 

The model  “as a Service” (aaS) initially stems from the IT industry, and more specifically from cloud computing. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a well-known example of “aaS” model, where infrastructure and hard, middle and software are handled by cloud service providers and made available to customers over the Internet, on a “pay as-you-go” basis. “aaS” offers various benefits to the customers, as it helps them minimize upfront investment while avoiding operation, maintenance, and other ownership costs.

 

Customers can thus transform their capital expenditure (CAPEX) into operational expenditure (OPEX).  Instead, they can choose the paying scheme that suits their needs the best, opting either for “pay as you use” or subscribing on a monthly/annually-basis.

 

Borrowing concepts and methods of IaaS and cloud computing, GSaaS abstracts GS infrastructure. To do so, it mutualises GS infrastructure, relying on a single network of ground stations in order to enable satellite operators communicate with their satellites. Thus, GSaaS acts as a lever that enables satellite operators to launch their business faster and to focus on their core business, which is, in essence, the provision of data. Acknowledging these advantages, new users, including public entities, have started expressing interest in utilising this service.

 

 

The interface and API are designed to be easy to use, to enable all types of satellite operators (e.g. universities, public and private) control their satellites. The API enables satellite operators to interact with the ground station network, determine their satellite parameters and constraints, retrieve the schedule of operations, as well as all the data collected.

 

When it comes to satellite mission types, most GSaaS users are EO and Internet of Things (IoT) satellite operators. EO satellites usually need to download as much data as possible and depending on their business, they look for near-real-time images. They however do not necessarily need low latency (i.e. maximum time between satellite data acquisition and reception by the user). For example, Eumetsat EO satellites in LEO have a latency of 30 minutes, which is enough to provide adequate services to their customers.

 

As compared to EO satellite operators, IoT satellite operator’s priority is more about number of contacts, and they look for low latency (down to 15mn for Astrocast for example). They thus tend to select highly reliable GS that ensure satellite connection in a timely manner.

 

There are two types of GSaaS customers: the ones that own ground stations, and the ones that do not. The first usually want to use GSaaS to complement their ground station network. They can use it in a punctual manner, to answer to specific events (e.g. LEOP, catastrophes, etc.), as backup ground stations (e.g. in case of a problem on one of their ground stations), or to download more data. This is for example the case of Spire Global Inc. that uses AWS Ground Station to satisfy growing demand by flexibly enlarging their ground network capabilities.

 

The second almost entirely rely on GSaaS to communicate with their satellites. They sometimes partner with various GSaaS providers to guarantee continuity of service (e.g. Astrocast using both KSAT and Leaf Space GSaaS services).

 

The need for GSaaS also depends on the orbit type. Indeed, as compared to GEO satellite operators that usually need few ground stations. located in their targeted region to perform their mission, LEO satellite operators look for a global coverage. Indeed, as satellites move around the Earth, they need to be able to connect with ground station in different parts of the world. However, in order to offer lower latencies, more ground stations are necessary, which can be a major hindrance. For this reason, so far, a large majority of GSaaS customers are LEO satellite operators.

 

DOD requirement

Pentagon officials often complain that the nation’s current satellite ground architecture is stymied by stovepiped, custom-built proprietary ground systems. While historically most satellite systems have been built with their own unique ground service platform, the Air Force has long wanted to move to a common platform for multiple families of satellites called Enterprise Ground Services. While EGS may have to be tweaked to work with the unique mission parameters of any satellite system, the idea is for all of the Air Force’s satellite systems to start from a common suite of command and control ground services.

 

Not only is this expected to save money in the long run since they won’t have to develop a new ground services architecture for each new satellite system, but the Air Force also hopes that transitioning to EGS will make it easier for satellite operators to move from system to system without having to learn an entirely new platform.

 

Kratos to demonstrate virtualised SATCOM ground system for US Army

The US Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) awarded a contract to Kratos Defense & Security Solutions to demonstrate military satellite communications (SatCom) modernisation in July 2023. The company has been tasked to build a virtualised SatCom ground system based on Kratos’ OpenSpace Platform.

The platform has an open architecture that supports multiple satellites and payloads. The cloud-enabled, IP and network-centric platform delivers faster operations.

 

The contract will be funded through the Network Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT) of the Army’s Future Command. Kratos’ solution will support the government’s modernisation strategy to streamline gateway and remote terminal capabilities. This will reduce life-cycle costs and support dynamic space operations.

 

The solution is expected to support future military SatCom networks with the ability to configure services spontaneously and spin up and spin down resources for multi-mission support.    Kratos Space Technology vice-president Chris Badgett said: “A strategic goal of the military is to operate an integrated SatCom enterprise, which increases assured SatCom access for the warfighter and improves the effectiveness of the infrastructure by enhancing resilience.

 

GSaaS market

The GSaaS market value has so far grown proportionally with the pace of deployment of small satellites on a trend to peak at $250 million by 2026. But the window for market expansion is limited as the market will deflate as it matures to $200 million by the end of the decade.

 

The deployment of software-definition in both satellite systems and within ground infrastructure will also stand as a key item in the product roadmap of many ground segment suppliers, with a need to partly transition from a role of hardware to technology suppliers. Satellite operators are relying more and more on virtualization in place of physical hardware, reducing expenditures and improving ground segment flexibility.

 

Ground station as a service suppliers

Many classes of GS service suppliers now exist.  Some are new actors that includes new start-ups (e.g. Leaf Space, Infostellar, RBC Signals, Atlas Space Operations, etc.), IT-born companies (e.g. AWS) but also GS incumbents (e.g. SSC, KSAT).

Digital giants including Amazon, Microsoft, and Tencent presently dominate the GSaaS market, exploiting their extensive computing and data storage capacities to easily integrate the entire ground infrastructure into the cloud. GSaaS is part of a broader trend of digitalization of space systems, growing from its origins in the space segment to now include the ground segment. In addition, the cloud ground station business may be considered a representative case of another trend in which there is an increasing demand for space-based data, as space systems become mere tools at the service of the Big Data market.

Ground station ownership

A first distinction can be made between GSaaS providers that own their ground stations (e.g. Leaf
Space), and the ones that do not (e.g. Infostellar). The latter can be seen as “brokers” that use the white space (i.e. available time for satellite communication) of idle antennas in already existing ground stations. They thus cannot always offer highly reliable or guaranteed contacts, especially if they rely solely on their partners’ antennas.

Amazon and Microsoft, with their Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure brands respectively, are the presently leading the GSaaS market, relying upon  networks of ground stations built by traditional space companies to offer GSaaS, whilst also building their own antennas.

ATLAS Space Operations is a US-based company that maintains a network of 30 antennas around the world that interface with the company’s Freedom Software Platform. The company’s interest in the synergy between the antennas and the software gives the appearance of similarity to AWS Ground Station or Azure Orbital, but this is not the case. ATLAS owns its ground segment antennas; it functions like an in-house ground station that sells all its antenna time. Amazon’s and Microsoft’s offerings do not own many, if any of their antennas, and prioritize big data analytics. In fact, ATLAS Space Operations is a partner of AWS Ground Services, and supports its cloud products from within its software platform

Building upon their experience in satellite operation and leveraging their global network of ground stations, GS providers incumbents designed solutions specifically adapted to small satellite operators and large constellations with SSC Infinity and KSATlite for example.

The added value in the space sector is increasingly shifting towards data services and downstream applications. GSaaS not only enables command and control of the satellite from a Virtual Private Cloud, but also offers additional data services that empower users to process, analyze, and distribute the data generated by their satellites. This leads to an additional ecosystem of new start-ups and companies that specialize in the creation of digital tools to be integrated into the services of GSaaS providers

To do so, incumbents standardized their ground station equipment and configurations, and developed web-based and API customer interfaces, notably to enable pass scheduling. To do so, incumbents standardised their ground station equipment and configurations, and developed web based and API customer interfaces, notably to enable pass scheduling.

Ground station coverage

As mentioned earlier in the paper, ground station coverage is key to ensure frequent contacts with satellites and offer recent data. GSaaS providers can also be compared based on their ground station coverage on Earth. Some providers indeed have a large network (e.g. SSC owns and operates more than 40 antennas in its global network and hosts more than 100 customers’
antennas) and others have more limited network with fewer ground stations (e.g. Leaf Space has a network of 5 operating ground stations and 3 being installed)

China is also entering the GSaaS capacity aggregation vertical through Tencent, whose cloud division announced plans in late 2019 to develop a ground station network and cloud platform for the distribution of satellite imagery. This will be part of the WeEarth platform, and is seemingly intended to dovetail with the company’s investment in Satellogic.

Ground station location

Looking at the number of antennas is not enough, and the location of the antennas is even more important, as it will determine the capacity of the GSaaS provider to answer a variety of customer needs (i.e. depending on the satellite orbit and inclination). The example of AWS GS decision to change their rollout strategy to adapt their antenna location to their customers’ needs is a good
example of how choosing the best antenna location is key.
Whereas low-inclination or equatorial orbits tend to look for ground stations near Equator. For example, if the ideal ground station location of a satellite operator is Japan, it will tend to look for the GSaaS provider with antennas located there

As such, commercial EO satellite operators with a focus on investing capital in the space segment for launch and manufacture, have an additional path to a partially/fully outsourced ground service model that leverages the technological capabilities and financial strategies of the Cloud era. A satellite operator subject to demand uncertainties will find the scheduled contact via the pay-per-minute pricing means spending less capital compared to procuring ground station antennas priced in the millions.

With on-demand measurability and flexibility in spinning up of services, Cloud-based solutions provide a shift from the traditionally CAPEX-heavy investments of satellite ground infrastructure to a reduced OPEX consideration that is flexible and open. In the case of AWS Ground Station, the service is aimed at offering flexible per-minute access to antennas across eight locations for self-service scheduling. This in turn alleviates the customer’s need to buy, lease, build or manage a fully owned ground segment.

By reducing need for ownership of hardware/software, such solutions also allow satellite players to cooperate with Cloud service providers(CSPs) and deploy their applications/serve their customers with great efficiency. Cloud-enabled ground systems will be a key enabler in opening up the revenue opportunity here across verticals and regions, as technology rises to meet and innovate on the supply of satellite data. With expanded and flexible Cloud Computing capacity close to the processing node, insight extraction is also local to end users, thereby also alleviating unnecessary Cloud costs.

Autonomous scheduling is based on customer constraints and not on booking. With autonomous
scheduling, GSaaS providers have the responsibility to schedule contact windows on behalf of their customers, based on their constraints. This enables satellite operators to avoid having to book themselves whenever they wish to contact their satellite.
– Consulting services entail all additional services GSaaS providers can offer, beyond communication services, such as support for ground station development for example.

Pricing

One of the most important criteria for satellite operators to select a GSaaS offer is the cost of the service. In order to select the most suitable pricing model that corresponds to their needs, satellite operators can take decision based on two aspects:

Intensity of GSaaS usage Pricing can be performed by the minute (correlated to the number of minutes used), by the pass, or on a subscription base (not correlated to the number of minutes/passes to be made).

For example, as of Summer 2020, the pricing per minute of AWS Ground Station would vary between 3 and 10 USD for narrowband (<54MHz bandwidth) and between 10 and 22 USD for wideband (>54MHz bandwidth). In December 2019, RBC Signals equally launched a low-cost offer called “Xpress” enabling X-band downlink, with prices down to 19.95 USD per pass, with a monthly minimum of 595 USD.

Commitment capacity
GSaaS customers usually have two main ways to pay as they use, either reserving passes, or paying on demand. Usually, prices go down as the customer commitment level increases, which explains why on-demand pricing is usually higher than reserved minutes.

Ground station performance and service quality

Another criterion that is key in the selection of a GSaaS provider is the ground station performance, together with the service quality. Both involve criteria like reliability, number of contacts, security of communications and data transfer, latency (i.e. time between the satellite acquiring data and the ground station receiving this data), and ground station location.

Reliability

Some GSaaS providers can guarantee their customers with highly reliable satellite communications (e.g. guaranteed passes, high number of contacts, etc.). However, other GSaaS providers that do not own their own ground stations or have a limited network of ground stations have more difficulties to offer such high reliability.

Amazon AWS

AWS Ground commands a plurality of the cloud computing market. Launched in 2018, the product is a capacity aggregator that turns antenna time from an expensive, upfront capital expenditure into a much smaller, recurring operational cost for both Amazon and its customers. Antenna utilization rates start at approximately $3/minute.

 

AWS Ground Station acquires, demodulates, and decodes downlink signals from your satellite. The data is delivered in seconds to an Amazon S3 bucket using the Amazon S3 data delivery feature of AWS Ground Station. AWS Ground Station acquires and digitizes the downlink signal, then delivers the digitized stream to an Amazon EC2 instance in milliseconds. The Amazon EC2 instances host an SDR. The SDR demodulates and decodes the data; then the data is stored in Amazon S3 or streamed to a mission control backend hosted in the cloud or on-premises.

 

Satellite operators can choose to use AWS Ground Station or third-party antenna systems. AWS Ground Station offers the ability to digitize radio frequency signals as part of the managed service, while third-party ground stations may need to introduce digitizers capable of translating between the analog and digital radio frequency domains.

 

During downlink operations, the DigIF stream received from Stage 2 is demodulated and decoded into raw satellite data streams (e.g. EO data) within Stage 4. During uplink operations, the opposite occurs: data streams (e.g. commands) are encoded and modulated into DigIF streams, then sent to Stage 2 for transmission to the satellite.

 

 

Per most shared responsibility models, AWS represents that they maintain the security of their cloud environments, while customers maintain the security of their own data and resources within it. This separation extends even to the content of data within the cloud, whereby AWS can see that a resource is being utilized, but not what data is stored, or what processes are being run on it. It ultimately intends to operate twelve ground stations around the world, and already has a plethora of both government and commercial customers

 

Azure Orbital

After Amazon, Microsoft now getting into ground station as a service business with Azure Orbital. In September 2021, the software giant announced a preview of the business that enables satellite operators to communicate to and control their satellites, process data, and scale operations with Microsoft Azure Cloud.

 

“We are extending Azure from under the sea to outer space. With Azure Orbital, we are now taking our infrastructure to space, enabling anyone to access satellite data and capabilities from Azure,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced during his opening keynote at the Microsoft Ignite 2020 conference.

 

With Azure Orbital, the ground segment, including the ground stations, network, and procedures, becomes a digital platform now integrated into Azure and complemented by partners such as Amergint, Kratos, KSAT, Kubos, Viasat and US Electrodynamics Inc.

 

“Microsoft is well-positioned to support customer needs in gathering, transporting, and processing of geospatial data. With our intelligent Cloud and edge strategy currently extending over 60 announced cloud regions, advanced analytics, and AI capabilities coupled with one of the fastest and most resilient networks in the world — security and innovation are at the core of everything we do,” Yves Pitsch Principal Program Manager, Azure Networking, wrote in a blog post.

 

We are thrilled that we will be co-locating, deploying and operating our next-generation O3b mPOWER gateways alongside Microsoft’s data centers. This one-hop connectivity to the cloud from remote sites will enable our MEO customers to enhance their cloud application performance, optimize business operations with much flexibility and agility needed to expand new markets,” Hemingway added.

 

Earlier in August, Microsoft had filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission outlining its intent to build a network of ground stations and connecting satellite operators to its Azure cloud. On September 2, the FCC authorized Microsoft to perform proof-of-concept demonstrations of the service, which comes with a six-month license allowing for data downloads from Urthecast’s Deimos-2 Earth observation satellite.

 

Azure Orbital is a fully managed cloud-based ground station as a service that lets you communicate with your spacecraft or satellite constellations, downlink and uplink data, process your data in the cloud, chain services with Azure services in unique scenarios, and generate products for your customers. Azure Orbital lets you focus on the mission and product data by off-loading the responsibility for deployment and maintenance of ground station assets. This system is built on top of the Azure global infrastructure and low-latency global fiber network.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeyQtOGixLA

 

References and Resources also include:

http://interactive.satellitetoday.com/via/november-2021/renting-the-ground-the-growing-future-of-ground-segment-as-a-service/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/345765418_Market_perspectives_of_Ground_Segment_as_a_Service

About Rajesh Uppal

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