Saturday, June 01, 2019

Amazon's AWS Ground Station service is now available

Amazon announced that they would be providing satellite ground station service last year and Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web services, announced its availability in the video at the end of this post.

AWS Ground Station is a fully managed, ready-to go ground station service, featuring:

  • No upfront cost.
  • Scaleability -- you only pay for antenna time.
  • No long-term contract.
  • Self-service scheduling on a per-minute basis, that can be changed dynamically using their ground station console.
  • Secure transmission.
  • Low latency due to proximity to Amazon data centers.
  • Integration with EC2, S3 and other Amazon services and Amazon's global network backbone.
  • Simultaneous up/download.
  • Support of most common communication frequencies.
This sounds like a compelling case, especially for a small operator or startup, but I don't know how the prices compare to existing services or building proprietary ground stations.

A couple of questions come to mind. I assume Project Kuiper, Amazon's proposed broadband satellite venture, will use this service, but will SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat and other potential satellite broadband ISPs also use it? If so, will Amazon treat them fairly? Competing ground station companies might also raise the issue of predatory pricing since Amazon will have an opportunity for cross-subsidy with their other services or they might just operate at a loss until competitors are eliminated (as they have done in other cases).

Hongyun Project -- China's low-earth orbit broadband Internet project

It might be tempting to dismiss this effort as small and behind the broadband satellite projects of companies like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, but that would be a mistake.

Long March 11 rocket and Hongyun-1
satellite (source).
Last December, State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) launched the first experimental Hongyun (rainbow cloud) Project satellite and they began testing it in March.

The 247 kg test satellite is in orbit at an altitude of around 1,100 km and they plan to launch four more test satellites this year and begin operating with a 156-satellite constellation in 2022. I don't know anything more about their plans, but with only 156 satellites I suspect they will focus on unserved regions in rural China and perhaps Latin America at first.

It might be tempting to dismiss this effort as small and behind the broadband satellite projects of companies like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, but that would be a mistake. China has an ambitious, global Internet infrastructure and application program called the Digital Silk Road and the "road" is terrestrial with highways, ports, pipelines, and railways, undersea with cables and in space with the Hongyun Project, their Beidou satellite navigation system, which will be global next year, and the Digital Belt and Road Earth observation program. Our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the current trade war were gifts to the Chinese.

Update 6/4/2019

CASIC broke ground on April 24 for a satellite industry park in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, where they will produce satellites for the Hongyun project.

In keeping with China's policy of funding competitors, another production line operated by a satellite start-up, Spacety, based in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, began construction in January. Each facility is expected to produce 100 satellites per year. (China has historically funded Internet service competition).

Update 6/18/2019

U.S. military tracking data shows the satellite is in a nearly circular orbit averaging 1,067 km altitude at an inclination of 99.9 degrees and CASIC confirmed that Hongyun would emphasize service in China's remote regions.