Sending Data From Space to Amazon S3 in Less Than a Minute

Technology in the space industry is modernizing rapidly and Maxar’s DigitalGlobe has been on the forefront of shaping and integrating the latest tech into our processes. A key part of this transformation has been our work with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which we’ve said we’re “All-in on AWS”:

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 had a view from space of AWS Snowmobile parked on DigitalGlobe’s campus back in 2016. It’s that white semi-truck trailer parked on the upper left side of the building.

 

 

So what’s next in our “All-In on AWS” journey?

This morning, DigitalGlobe helped AWS CEO Andy Jassy announce the first AWS space product: AWS Ground Station. It is a service that manages the undifferentiated heavy lifting for ground station infrastructure, removing cost and complexity for space companies looking to operate assets on orbit. Once satellite data is downlinked by the AWS ground station antenna and received by an EC2 instance, the data is stored locally in Amazon S3 and can be submitted for processing by machine learning services.

DigitalGlobe currently brings in 80 terabytes of satellite data per day from our current WorldView constellation using our existing global, ground station network. In 2021, we’re launching our next-generation WorldView Legion constellation, which will allow us to start observing a single location up to 15 times a day. That’s going to dramatically increase the amount of data we’re downlinking daily – and we’re going to want access to that data faster to analyze and deliver to customers. AWS Ground Station will help us accomplish that goal.

By using AWS Ground Station, we can:

  • Scale our ground station network up and down depending on what’s needed to fulfill our customer missions.
  • Directly downlink our imagery into our imagery library, which lives in the AWS cloud.
  • Apply AWS cloud-based machine learning from GBDX to new imagery faster to extract insights at scale, enabling customers to make decisions with confidence more quickly.

 

DigitalGlobe has been testing AWS Ground Station using WorldView-1, WorldView-2, WorldView-3 and WorldView-4 since October. My team and I successfully established real-time communications between our Mission Operations Center (MOC) in Colorado and one of the AWS Ground Station sites. The operations team used standard operational systems (with no additional development effort) to talk to all four of our satellites using AWS Ground Station. We received spacecraft telemetry, sent commands to the satellites, downlinked and captured dozens of images.

The most exciting part of our testing work was finding out how fast we could get data from space into Amazon S3. The answer – 55 seconds.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. 11:05 a.m. PT – WorldView-4 orbited into the zone of an AWS Ground Station test site. The test team was in a conference room at the ground station site. We had DigitalGlobe’s spacecraft operators in the MOC talking to us on the phone when they acquired WorldView-4’s signal using AWS Ground Station.
  2. 11:08 a.m. PT – The test team walked out to the parking lot between the two ground station antennas.
  3. 11:10:46 a.m. PT – The test team lined up in the “Amazon Smile” shape in the parking lot to pose for WorldView-4’s image collection.
  4. 11:10:57 a.m. PT – WorldView-4’s spacecraft operator in the MOC downlinked the image using AWS Ground Station.
  5. 11:11:41 a.m. PT – AWS Ground Station delivered this image to Amazon S3 before the test team made it back to the conference room.

 

In 55 seconds.

DigitalGlobe’s team testing AWS Ground Station stands in the “Amazon Smile” shape between two ground station antennas while WorldView-4 takes the image, downlinks it and it’s available in Amazon S3 in 55 seconds.

Typically, downlinking a satellite image and getting it into the cloud takes under 60 minutes, so consider the impact of receiving the world’s high-resolution commercial satellite imagery into the cloud in 55 seconds. When firefighters are attacking a wildfire, they need the most up-to-date information to save lives and homes. When first responders are tracking down refugees fleeing danger in flimsy rubber boats, they need real-time information about where those rubber boats are located before they sink. The uses for current and accurate space-based data is growing – and the end-users need it quickly.

AWS Ground Station is a powerful next step in DigitalGlobe’s “All-In on AWS” journey. It will help DigitalGlobe and Maxar Build a Better World.