Science & Technology

Microsoft and Amazon take on new roles in Pentagon’s space communication plans

Microsoft Azure Space, Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network are now among the Pentagon’s partners in a campaign to upgrade space- and ground-based communications infrastructure for national security purposes.

The Defense Innovation Unit has awarded contracts to those three Seattle-area business units — plus SpiderOak Mission Systems, a space cybersecurity venture based in Washington, D.C. — in the second phase of the Hybrid Space Architecture project. They join four awardees from the project’s first phase: Aalyria, Anduril, Atlas and Enveil.

“Hybrid Space Architecture ventures into an experimental communications vision that connects users from around the globe using modern and future communications,” Steve Butow, director of DIU’s space portfolio, said today in a news release. “The additional four awards from this solicitation provide new capabilities while seamlessly integrating into this dynamic and innovative collective of information and networking infrastructure that will provide resilient communications, and future technologies access, worldwide and beyond.”

The focus of the Phase I effort was to create a “Hybrid Gateway Satellite” to prove out next-generation networking technologies. Phase II is aimed at expanding the operational network to link ground-based cloud and internet services with commercial satellite constellations to facilitate secure communications via a hybrid public-private network.

“It’s time for the internet to move off-planet,” said Rogan Shimmin, DIU’s program manager for Hybrid Space Architecture.

DIU pointed to the war in Ukraine and its regional impact as a case study. “A present-day use case is in Eastern Europe, where armies currently in conflict rely on multiple cloud servers and various commercial communication terminals both on the ground and in space to move data to and from the battlefield,” DIU said in its news release.

Collaborators in the effort include the U.S. Space Force, the Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC), the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate and the Space Force’s Space Systems Command.

Jason Zander, Microsoft’s executive vice president for strategic missions and technologies, said the Hybrid Space Architecture would be built in part upon Microsoft Azure, and would leverage the capabilities of Azure Space solutions, including Azure Orbital Cloud Access and Azure Orbital Ground Station.

“Combined, these capabilities bring together key functions of the HSA, including remote sensing, multi-path communications and cloud computing,” Zander said in a blog posting.

The architecture would also draw upon cloud and communication capabilities provided by Amazon Web Services.

“If we’re going to compete in the future national security environment, we have to be able to fuse air, land, space and sea,” Clint Crosier, AWS’ director of aerospace and satellite solutions, told GeekWire last year. “And we have to provide data from every sensor to every shooter and every command post simultaneously in real time, all over the world. The only way you can execute that is by leveraging [resources] such as the global infrastructure of AWS cloud.”

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet launched any satellites for its planned broadband constellation, but once that network is operational, it’s expected to serve as a space-based complement to AWS.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation is already in operation and being used for communications on an experimental basis by the U.S. military — and by Ukraine’s armed forces. What’s more, SpaceX is one of Microsoft’s key partners for its Azure Space offerings.

SpiderOak Mission Systems said it would help the Pentagon demonstrate end-to-end network security using the company’s OrbitSecure zero-trust data protocol.

“Warfighters have identified cyber-attacks as the ‘soft underbelly‘ of the satellites on which we depend for our defense and modern life,” John Moberly, SpiderOak’s senior vice president for space, said in a news release. “We are thrilled to be selected by DIU and SWAC and partnered with York Space Systems to secure this mission, and we are very much looking forward to working with the other companies selected to support the entire Hybrid Space Architecture into the future.”

Update for 1:30 p.m. PT Nov. 4: In a blog posting, Amazon Web Services says DIU’s contract is aimed at supporting efforts “to better understand the role commercial cloud services and infrastructure could play in the development of a hybrid space architecture.”

The first phase of DIU’s separate contract with Project Kuiper calls for modeling the key components of a “hybrid data transport architecture that could support various mission scenarios and needs, including on-demand weather data.”

Phase 2 of the Project Kuiper contract “will leverage the concepts and requirements developed in Phase 1 to perform hardware-in-the-loop and software-in-the-loop testing.” Project Kuiper could also “contribute to potential mission-relevant technology demonstrations that would use on-orbit satellites and ground-based hardware and software,” according to the blog posting.

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