6 mins read 09 Sep 2021

Microsoft Lifts Into Orbit with Australian Space Partnerships

Microsoft Australia has announced a number of new partnerships with key stakeholders across the Australian space industry, including working with Nokia and the South Australian Government to help boost Australian business capabilities for space-based applications and services.

Credit: Microsoft Australia.

Microsoft Australia has today announced a suite of space-supporting platforms and partnerships, propelling the company into the Australian space industry with dedicated cloud and technology products and services which have now become available across the space ecosystem – from start-ups to government.

These new tools will allow data that is collected from space (on Earth Observation satellites for example) to be combined with Microsoft Azure’s artificial intelligence and data analytics products, helping provide near real-time insights across the Australian geography, and in particular some of our continents more remote environments.

Some of the products offered under the Azure Space suite include Azure Orbital, a ground-based service designed to ensure efficient communication between assets such as satellites in orbit, Cloud computing capabilities for challenging environments through the Azure Modular Data centre, and the Azure Orbital Emulator - intended to help Australian space companies get their assets into space faster, with a higher degree of confidence and success. The Azure Space team here in Australia is led by former US Air Force Colonel Lynn McDonald who has come from a wide range of experiences in a variety of space-related sectors.

“As someone born and raised in Australia, I’m excited to see the rapid growth of Australia’s space ecosystem,” said Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Azure Global Microsoft.

“At Microsoft, we see an opportunity to partner with organisations of all sizes and bring the power of Azure to solve complex challenges and unlock new opportunities.”

Credit: Microsoft Australia.

Additionally, Microsoft has also signed a Strategic Statement of Intent with the Australian Space Agency, working to support the body in growing the Australian space sector, increasing jobs in line with its targets. 

“The signing of a Statement of Strategic Intent with Microsoft signals our shared ambition to grow the national space industry as part of the Agency’s broader mission to triple the size of the sector to $12 billion and add another 20,000 jobs by 2030,” said Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency.

“The signing comes at a time of increasing momentum in the Australian space sector and acknowledges the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors to leverage space technologies for the benefit of life on Earth.”

Forging Partnerships to Open Access to Space

Microsoft Azure Space Leader and former US Air Force Colonel, Lynn McDonald. Credit: Microsoft Australia.

Additional to the Statement of Strategic Intent with the Space Agency, Microsoft has now also joined forces with Nokia and signed an agreement with the South Australian Department of Trade and Investment to demonstrate how space technology, combined with 5G innovation can bring in the next generation of digital solutions, with the space industry.

“We are delighted to be working with Nokia as we bring together interdisciplinary experts to develop, test, and deploy new technologies and strategies that respond to the challenges of the changing world,” said Microsoft Azure Space leader, Lynn McDonald.

The plan is for Microsoft and Nokia to deliver on rich new communications and data capabilities, and leverage satellite imagery processing for Australian industries. These capabilities will enable the next generation of digital solutions for remote areas such as rail safety, mine automation and other use cases that require high-performance connectivity. The two companies will also explore how space and 5G innovation can be adopted for the benefit of industries, such as Defence, which rely on high-speed, high-bandwidth and ultrareliable connectivity in areas and situations that prohibit fixed cables and fixed connectivity.

“This partnership between Microsoft and Nokia further cements our State’s standing within the global space industry,” said South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.

“It is testament to our good reputation of forward-thinking, and collaboration within the Hi[1]tech and Space industries, that companies of this stature continue to be attracted to South Australia. We welcome Microsoft and Nokia to Adelaide and look forward to working with both companies to build an even stronger space sector in South Australia and create many local jobs.”

Using space-based technology, combined through Microsoft and Nokia’s platforms to enable remote mining capabilities.
Credit: Microsoft Australia.

“Our continued investment in the Lot Fourteen innovation precinct and our ongoing work with industry on a $6.5 million initiative to design and build a Low Earth Orbit satellite to provide space-derived services to the state, signals South Australia’s determination to continue to lead in this sector,” said South Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment Stephen Patterson.

“Microsoft’s Azure Space capabilities help to address some of the toughest technology challenges companies face in space and in industries as diverse as agriculture, mining and resources, transport, logistics and within the public sector.”

Microsoft has also announced that its growing Azure Space team is joining Lot Fourteen and collaborating closely with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning on space emulation innovation and with Stone & Chalk to support space start-up business and innovation.

The prime location in Adelaide also currently hosts the Australian Space Agency, the Andy Thomas Space Foundation, the Australian Space Discovery Centre, the Australian Youth Aerospace Association, Inovor, Myriota, Saber Astronautics and many other Australian space industry stakeholders.

“We are delighted that Microsoft is building its Azure Space team at Lot Fourteen. Stone & Chalk is home to some of Australia’s leading innovators who are working to solve the world's most pressing challenges,” said Chris Kirk, general manager of Stone & Chalk, Adelaide.

“South Australia is fast becoming a center of gravity for the space industry and is ideally positioned as a global testbed for space-enabled innovation. Now there is the opportunity for entrepreneurs and industry to work alongside a technology business of Microsoft’s stature to gain an understanding of the opportunities that space technology and data present.”

“Microsoft's addition to the ecosystem at Lot Fourteen also helps accelerate our focus on building a vibrant home-grown supply chain in the Space industry. It’s a great combination.”

Professor Tat-Jun Chin (right) University of Adelaide SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning with Nicholas Moretti (left), Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Azure Space Credit: Microsoft Australia.

And it doesn’t stop there – with Microsoft also signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Institute of Machine Learning to collaborate on how advanced cloud computing, AI, computer vision and machine learning could be applied in Earth orbit and beyond.

“The relationship with Microsoft will give us access to cloud-based platforms that will allow us to focus on the investigation on the performance of algorithms used to analyse large amounts of earth-observation data from satellites, without needing to be concerned about gaining access to space at the onset,” said Professor Tat-Jun Chin, from the University of Adelaide and e SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning.

“Our work on these algorithms has the potential to contribute to many applications, including agricultural land management, water management, mining practices and understanding of economic activity among many other applications.”

Last month, the company also launched its Microsoft for Space Start-Ups Australia initiative, premiering with two Australian space businesses – Spiral Blue, as well as the Office of Planetary Observations.