Azure Orbital Space unveils software tools for space applications

SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft announced the private preview Nov. 17 of a new product, the Azure Orbital Space Software Development Kit (SDK).

With the spacecraft-agnostic SDK, Azure Orbital intends to make it easy for developers to create space-related applications in the cloud and deploy them on spacecraft operated by Azure Orbital partners, Stephen Kitay, Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews.

“Microsoft has a vision to lower the barrier of entry for space developers and to reduce the need for custom solutions,” Kitay said.

Space applications development is a highly specialized field. A lack of standards makes it time-consuming and difficult to write applications and reuse code across satellites and missions, Kitay said.

On-orbit computers are become increasingly capable. Still, demands for rapid data processing are surging as Earth observation, communications and space domain awareness missions turn to artificial intelligence and machine learning to speed up operations and increase spacecraft autonomy.

Instead of launching its own satellites, Azure Orbital created an intelligent hosting platform, software, that runs on spacecraft operated by its partners Ball Aerospace, Loft Orbital, Thales Alenia Space and Xplore.

The hosting platform is designed to help applications communicate with spacecraft hardware in a secure way, meaning developers can test code in space.

Xplore is the latest addition to the Azure Orbital Ecosystem. The a Redmond, Washington-based startup is preparing to launch an Earth-observation satellite to gather hyperspectral data and high-resolution video imagery.

Applying that imagery and data to a task like detecting fires in remote areas requires significant onboard processing. It would be too time-consuming to transmit terabytes of data and imagery to the ground for processing, Kitay said.

“We’re bringing the processing to the edge to then notify, tip and cue,” Kitay said. “We’re providing a whole new toolset for developers that are building applications for these different mission verticals across different enterprises.”

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