AWS Ground Station, which launched early in 2019, aims to help large organizations start working with satellite data quickly without making enormous capital expenditure investments.

Some number of the roughly 2,000 currently active satellites make their time available for third parties to rent for Earth observation. AWS Ground Station provides the hardware and backhaul so you can collect, transport, and even start processing the data without buying a dish or a server. Amazon’s goal, in my opinion, is to continue to build the value of Amazon Web Services among large organizations by abstracting away some of the IT headaches of obtaining and processing data from satellites.

Amazon thinks AWS Ground Station is a perfect fit for enterprise businesses, academic institutions (who use satellite information for research), as well as government entities. Target use cases for AWS Ground Station include:

  1. Agriculture: Monitoring crop health and water levels
  2. Supply chain: Monitoring shipping and watching out for deviations that may be due to piracy
  3. Public safety: Analyzing wildfires to identify the safest points of entry for firefighters
  4. Retail: counting cars in parking lots to forecast demand (though I note that retailers already have many options for estimating traffic at their own stores)

However, Amazon’s launch customer for the AWS Ground Station public availability announcement fit none of the use cases above. Instead, it was a New Space company, Spire Global, that announced plans to use AWS Ground Station — to supplement their own satellite data-gathering operations. The choice makes sense. Spire is positioned to understand the value of AWS Ground Station long before any single enterprise might sign on.

Top benefits of contracting a ground station service instead of building your own ground station:

  • No capital expenditure
  • No long-term commitments
  • Scale as needed
  • Easily use other Amazon services, like Rekognition and SageMaker, with satellite data

Customers pay by the minute and receive a discounted rate when they reserve in bulk ahead of time. (Scheduled usage of AWS Ground Station enables Amazon to predict demand and merits a hefty discount.)