An artist’s conception shows Telesat’s phase 1 LEO satellite in orbit. (Illustration by Telesat)
How will Pentagon planners cope with data torrents that are expected to fall from a constellation of satellites that monitor hot spots from low Earth orbit?
Microsoft and Ball Aerospace say they have shown that the cloud can handle it, and not just manage it, but it processes multiple streams of satellite data five times faster than the Pentagon’s target speed.
The demonstration of a prototype system was conducted this year for the Pentagon Defense Innovation Unit in support of the Office of the Commercially Enhanced Space Interconnected Operations Program, or CASINO, which is under the aegis of the United States Space Force Space Systems and Missile Center.
For the purposes of the test, Telesat provided access to its satellite network in low Earth orbit. Ball Aerospace provided the event-based architecture to process the data transmitted from space. And Microsoft Azure provided the firepower of cloud computing to process data and extract information from it.
Telesat’s satellite sent up to 20 separate streams of simulated readings of persistent overload infrared sensors, also known as OPIR. These data streams could be crucial in detecting and combating missile threats, but processing the data avalanche is not an easy task.
“What this prototype did was demonstrate that the Earth’s low orbit is a viable capability for the Space Force, which works with the cloud. Contrary to the program goals set by the IUD, the processing of terrain with data space is about five times faster with the Azure cloud, ”Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Azure Global, told GeekWire.
“We think it’s a pretty big thing,” Keane said.
The team was able to transmit OPIR data via Telesat to Azure satellites to the data center, as well as directly to a tactical vehicle equipped with an Azure Stack Edge device. “This brings the possibility of having satellite connectivity in a vehicle, or even in something that moves, like an airplane in flight,” Keane said.
The Microsoft-Ball data processing demonstration showed that data from satellites could be disconnected and processed in a tactical vehicle. (Photo by Microsoft)
Steve Smith, vice president and general manager of systems engineering solutions at Ball Aerospace, said the system could open new frontiers for defense-related satellite applications.
“We have been in the land processing business for 30 years, and therefore this idea of not having to build a building, and not having to transport a lot of processors, and not having to transport it in a lot of storage and having this is your terrestrial system … the ability to get away from it is exciting, ”Smith said. “The cloud becomes your terrestrial system.”
When it comes to Microsoft’s ability to deal with big satellite data, CASINO isn’t the only game in town.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a program called Blackjack that aims to develop a constellation of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit for defense applications. Microsoft is part of a team working on the mission management system for Blackjack satellites, known as Pit Boss.
“I think it’s fair to say that we continue to work together with our partners to win more business and compete for business,” Keane said.
Keane added that the knowledge gained from the CASINO project could also feed into commercial enterprises, including the partnership of Microsoft Azure with SpaceX and its Starlink satellite broadband network.
“The work we are doing here, experimenting and working together with clients have absolute applicability to the partnerships we have elsewhere in the space, such as the Starlink partnership,” he said. “In fact, we demonstrated from a moving cell, using a Ball antenna, with the Starlink matrix to talk to Azure. Therefore, we have had the functions of the Azure cloud in use in a cell in flight, together with Ball ”.
Keane said the next steps will focus on innovative ways to transform satellite data into deep knowledge, on the battlefield or in the office. “When we try to do things with this data, with increased intelligence, with predictive analytics … the possibilities there are almost endless,” he said.