Good morning. Part of Payload's team is in Paris for IAC 2022. Shoot us a note if you're here and would like to link up.
In today's newsletter:📡 Azure Space 🚀 SUSIE concept 🗓️ The week ahead
Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.
Microsoft Launches First Product with SpaceX
Microsoft is scaling up its presence in space, in a figurative rather than literal sense. Azure, the company’s cloud computing arm, is focused on building out software tools and partnerships within the industry, rather than launching its own hardware into space.
Azure Space launched in Oct. 2020. It’s apparently been quite busy since then.
The Microsoft space unit made a slew of product and partnership announcements in Paris last week at WSBW. We’ll run through them here, along with highlights from a Payload interview with Jason Zander, Microsoft’s EVP of strategic missions and technologies.
#1: Azure Orbital Cloud Access (in private preview)
This new service is targeted toward unlocking high-bandwidth, low-latency applications from anywhere on the globe, said Zander. Azure Orbital Cloud Access leverages “edge” devices and the Starlink constellation for connectivity. Theoretically, that could make this offering available anywhere that’s served by SpaceX’s satellite internet service.
“Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency global connectivity in conjunction with Azure infrastructure will enable users to access fiber-like cloud computing access anywhere, anytime,” SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell said in a press release.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day and these services aren’t rolled out in a day either. Microsoft says the service Cloud Access Preview is only available to Azure Government customers.
Microsoft detailed two case studies of its new product offering. Firefighters in Idaho and the Hsinchu Fire Department in Taiwan used services like Microsoft Teams video chat while on the go (and out of service from traditional telco infrastructure). On fixed vs. mobile satellite services, Zander said “our goal would not be to narrow between them.”
#2: Ground Station goes into general availability
Azure Orbital is a fully managed ground station as a service product, allowing operators to communicate with their satellites (and control them) in low (LEO) or medium (MEO) Earth orbits. Last week, Microsoft said Pixxel, Loft Orbital, and Muon Space had signed on to use the service.
Azure’s ground station is colocated in or near Azure datacenters. Microsoft operates four of its own antennas, and plans to grow to 15 in the near future. The company also integrates with partners’ equipment, like KSAT’s Global Ground Station network.
Azure Orbital effectively lets companies pull information quickly from space into ~the cloud~. There, they can then access and analyze data with the full range of Azure analytics and AI tools.
#3: Making strides in digitizing satellite communications
Azure and ST Engineering iDirect said they demonstrated a satellite modem running as a “fully virtualized piece of software.” Azure will continue to work with traditional ground segment equipment, while also supporting new virtualized applications. Microsoft and SES also say they’re creating the world’s first fully virtualized ground station for the latter’s 2nd-gen MEO constellation.
On Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy, “We’re partner-led,” Zander said. “I’m not designing or launching my own satellites…[which] allows me to get to market a heck of a lot faster, because I can work with folks that have already done all that hard work. They are experts—they’re literally rocket scientists.”
Why is Microsoft so invested in space? “Going forward, if you do not have a satellite solution, you do not have a hyperscale cloud,” Zander said. Satellites are complementary to traditional telco networks and Azure is also investing in 5G, Zander said, but the cloud shouldn’t be confined to areas with cellular connectivity. To build the “world’s computer,” as Microsoft calls its cloud internally, you’ve got to be able to hit all the edges.
Share this with those SWE friends of yours who are fanatical about space:
Have You Met SUSIE?
During Day 1 of IAC in Paris, ArianeGroup execs unveiled the Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration spacecraft concept…SUSIE, for short.
The proposal is intended to equip Europe with independent crew and cargo access to LEO. Currently, the continent relies solely on the US for its crew transportation needs, after cutting ties with Russia’s launch and spaceflight ecosystem.
Length: 12 m
Diameter: 5 m
Mass: 25,000 kg
Crew: Up to 5
Payload capacity: 7,000 kg
Cargo bay: 40 m³
Launch vehicle: Ariane 64 (four booster variant)
“Susie is the result of several years of work by our design teams and provides a particularly ingenious solution for future in-space servicing needs and for automated or crewed flight, the demand for which will only grow in the future,” said Morena Bernardini, head of strategy and innovation at ArianeGroup.
Recovery and reuse
One of the most striking elements of the proposed vehicle is its ability to be propulsively recovered, much like SpaceX originally intended to do with Crew Dragon. Unlike Crew Dragon, however, SUSIE won’t have a disposable trunk and is instead intended to be fully reusable.
SUSIE will use an integrated abort system that would enable flight termination during any phase of the mission, even during the powered vertical descent.
Initially, SUSIE will be launched aboard an Ariane 64. The rocket won’t need any modifications for cargo flights, but will need some (still unspecified) changes for crewed missions.
Fam’s all here: The vehicle is also designed to be compatible with future launcher designs. In fact, SUSIE is a component of a reusable launch vehicle family project being proposed by ArianeGroup. This proposed family of vehicles will utilize the work done by ArianeGroup for ESA’s reusable Themis booster demonstrator and LOX/Methane-powered Prometheus rocket engine.
Looking beyond low Earth orbit
SUSIE will also offer access beyond LEO to lunar orbit, with the use of its Space Transfer Module. The newfangled module will provide propulsion, power, and consumables, depending on mission requirements.
In addition to lunar orbit, ArianeGroup envisions SUSIE serving as a cog in a vast transportation machine that will serve LEO and a “parking orbit” beyond the Van Allen Belts.
What’s next? Before Van Allen Belts, we must consider the baby—then bigger—steps required with any new launch program. For SUSIE, that starts with a proposal. ArianeGroup execs will present the spacecraft concept to ESA member states for consideration at the ministerial level council meeting later this year.
Join Payload at ASCEND 2022
Powered by AIAA, ASCEND promotes the collaborative, interdisciplinary, outcomes-driven community of professionals, students, and serious enthusiasts around the world who are accelerating humanity's progress toward our off-world future—faster.
The event brings together the space’s leading industry luminaries and thinkers, biggest companies, government leaders, top media outlets, educators and students, and serious enthusiasts.
Join Payload in October with leaders from companies like Lockheed Martin, Barclays, Redwire Space, Boeing, Virgin Orbit, Blue Origin, and Airbus. ASCEND’s all inclusive ticket gives you access to inspiring sessions and premium content, and helps you develop valuable business leads and make meaningful connections.
In Other News
The FCC granted Lynk a license for direct-to-smartphone service, paving the way for the satellite startup to launch commercially later this year.
Anduril unveiled Menace, a mobile military command center that leverages LEO and MEO SATCOM links.
UK regulators decided that Viasat’s planned acquisition of London-based Inmarsat poses no national security risks.
SpaceX launched its 180th mission to date, and 60th of the year, deploying a batch of 54 Starlink satellites.
NASA is soliciting proposals for a second lunar landing system to compete with SpaceX’s Human Landing System.
Two taikonauts from the Shenzhou 14 crew, Cai Xuzhe and Chen Dong, successfully completed the second spacewalk from the Tiangong space station.
The Week Ahead
All times in Eastern.
Sunday, Sept. 18: International Astronautical Congress 2022 (IAC) kicked off in Paris. The show runs through Thursday IRL at the Paris Convention Center.
Monday, Sept. 19: The Eumetsat Meteorological Satellite Conference begins in person in Brussels, Belgium and extends through Friday. The Air & Space Forces Association is also hosting its Air, Space & Cyber conference in National Harbor, MD through Wednesday.
Tuesday, Sept. 20: NASA’s heliophysics advisory committee will meet virtually through Wednesday.
Wednesday, Sept. 21: NASA is planning a tanking test for Artemis I at 7:15am. A Soyuz crew mission is set to launch two cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and one NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, at 9:54am from Baikonur. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will host a hearing on the next generation of weather satellites at 10am. The Africa Aerospace & Defense conference also kicks off in Tshwane, South Africa and extends through Sunday.
Thursday, Sept. 22: A Falcon 9 is set to launch a batch of 54 v1.5 Starlink satellites. ULA plans to launch the NROL-91 mission from Vandenberg at 5:53pm. NASA will also host a briefing on the state of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
The View from Space
The galaxy NGC 1961 as seen by Hubble. Image: NASA/ESA