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SpaceX has unveiled its second major cloud infrastructure deal to bring satellite-powered internet and cloud services to Earth’s farthest reaches. The Elon Musk-led company is partnering with Google Cloud, a deal that will see SpaceX’s Starlink satellites connected to ground stations located at Google datacenter sites.

The news follows a similar announcement last October involving Microsoft, which launched a new Azure Space initiative designed to make its cloud service “the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community,” according to a statement at the time. SpaceX had already launched hundreds of its low earth orbit (LEO) satellites capable of delivering internet to remote locations, and through Microsoft’s new Azure Modular Datacenters (MDCs) the duo are able to bring high-speed broadband to “extreme environments” that had hithero lacked the necessary infrastructure.

While the Google partnership follows a similar ethos, the deal appears to go far beyond the Microsoft tie-up by weaving SpaceX technologies more tightly into Google’s core datacenter infrastructure.

Moreover, the duo said they plan to start offering the satellite service to Google’s enterprise customers sometime in the second half of 2021, combining their respective competencies to deliver “data, cloud services, and applications to customers at the network edge,” according to a press release.

Final frontier

There has been a flurry of public and private space initiatives in recent years, many of which have involved companies launching constellations of micro-satellites into orbit. SpaceX alone has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites to date. But harnessing satellite data requires antennas and other infrastructure, such as storage, networks, and servers on the ground, which is effectively what the SpaceX and Google deal is all about. Locating its ground stations next to Google’s datacenters provides easy access to an array of Google Cloud services with minimal latency, including data analytics, AI, and machine learning.

Another obvious contender for this deal would have been Amazon Web Services (AWS). However, Amazon is also planning a network of satellites via Project Kuiper, and it already has a ground station service in operation to enable AWS customers to manage data from satellites. Plus, Musk has had a feud with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that goes back years, with Bezos launching a space company called Blue Origin in 2000 —  two years before Musk launched SpaceX.

Furthermore, SpaceX recently won a $2.9 billion NASA contract to build a spacecraft capable of taking U.S. astronauts to the moon from 2024. That contact was then put on hold, following challenges from Blue Origin over the procurement process.

Thus, Google Cloud was always a more likely partnership option for SpaceX than AWS.

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