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AWS Ground Station makes use of antennas developed for Lockheed Martin’s Verge network. (AWS Image)

LAS VEGAS — Space is hard, and getting data to and from orbiting satellites can be even harder. Amazon Web Services just launched a new cloud service that will take advantage of its global network to make it easier for satellite operators to get their data back on earth.

AWS Ground Station is a new service that is “the world’s first fully managed ground station as a service,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy said Tuesday during a press conference. Ground stations are used by satellite operators to send data back and forth into orbit, and they require a specialized array of antennas, computing infrastructure, and networking that can be quite expensive for those operators to set up on their own.

AWS will make use of a network of ground stations at its facilities around the world that will allow users to move data very quickly from space into AWS data centers. We’re talking about large parabolic antennas that cost millions to build and maintain.

Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, announces the AWS Ground Station space service at re:Invent 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Tom Krazit)

Specific pricing for the service was not announced, but the general idea seems to be in line with one of the strongest arguments for cloud computing when it comes to hardware: companies will save money because they won’t have to build and maintain their own network of ground stations. Customers will pay per minute of downlink time, and they’ll also be able to purchase a set amount of downlink time in advance, the company said in a blog post.

The cloud provider will start with two ground stations as of this week; screenshots from the blog post indicated that the US West AWS region in Oregon is involved at launch. AWS plans to have 12 stations in operation by the middle of next year. The stations will allow satellite operators to redirect their satellites much more quickly in response to natural disasters or other events that could use additional satellite coverage, according to Walter Scott, founder of DigitalGlobe, who joined Jassy on stage during the press conference.

Lockheed Martin’s Verge network of small ground-based antennas will complement AWS Ground Stations. (GeekWire Photo / Tom Krazit)

Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, also joined Jassy on stage to discuss a partnership between the two companies on a network of low-cost ground-based antennas developed by Lockheed Martin. Those antennas will help capture satellite data and connect into the AWS network.

AWS hinted that it was working on something space-related earlier this year when job listings looking for engineers to work on a “big, audacious space project” leaked out. Several space companies are working with AWS on the launch of this service, including DigitalGlobe as well as BlackSky and Spire Global.

[Editor’s note: This post was updated to remove a reference to Blue Origin as an AWS Ground Station partner; they are an AWS customer.]

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