Amazon has announced that AWS Ground Station, a service designed to help AWS cloud customers access and manage data from satellites, is now in general availability. The internet giant launched Ground Station in preview back in November, but from today it’s open to any AWS user.

The service entails placing satellite ground stations and antennas close to AWS datacenters, the first two of which are now in full operation.

Satellite city

Satellites are increasingly being used for all manner of use cases, from video broadcasts to weather forecasting — but for organizations wishing to use satellite data, this involves having to lease antennas that are capable of communicating with satellites. And throw into the mix all the other infrastructure required to manage and transmit the data, such as storage, servers, and networks, and it soon becomes clear how much resources are required.

And it’s against that backdrop that Amazon’s AWS Ground Station has come to the fore. Businesses, universities, and any AWS customer can schedule antenna access time through the AWS Management Console — as with other AWS services, it’s charged on a per-use basis and users aren’t locked in to contracts. They pay Amazon for the antenna time they need, and that’s it.

Above: Adding satellites to AWS

All the major cloud providers, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have established a network of datacenters around the world, which they use to deliver their respective services to customers in the region — the closer a datacenter is to the user, the lower the latency is. These datacenters are usually connected to the broader internet infrastructure through cables, which transcend continents through underwater cabling systems.

But there has been a growing push to deliver internet services from space via satellites, with the likes of OneWeb raising bucketloads of cash to mass-produce high-speed internet satellites, as has Elon Musk’s well-funded SpaceX, which is also working on a satellite internet business. Last month, Amazon itself revealed plans to build a network of more than 3,000 satellites to deliver high-speed internet.

Moreover, satellites can offer things that cables can’t, such as weather analysis from low orbit and high-resolution imagery of Earth. Last week, for example, Facebook announced that it was using satellite data and machine learning to map demographics, human movement, and network coverage to help combat diseases.

By positioning the ground stations next to its datacenters, Amazon is providing a direct artery for companies to not only access satellite data, but mix it with the full array of AWS services — and with minimal latency.

“Satellite data offers customers a profound way to build applications that help humans explore space and improve life on Earth, but the cost and difficulty of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to downlink and process the data has historically been prohibitive for all but the most well-funded organizations,” noted AWS Ground Station general manager Shayn Hawthorne. “The goal of AWS Ground Station is to make space communications ubiquitous and to make ground stations simple and easy to use, so that more organizations can derive insights from satellite data to help improve life on Earth and embark on deeper exploration and discovery in space.”