On the sidelines of the AWS Summit 2023, Washington DC, Shipra Sinha, Lead Analyst- Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CyberMedia Research (CMR) sat down with Clint Crosier, Director, Aerospace and Satellite, Amazon Web Services
Prior to joining AWS, Crosier served 33 years in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force. His career includes a broad charge of experience in space operations, including a one-year deployment to the Middle East as the U.S. Central Command Director of Space Forces.
1. How do you envision cloud computing playing an expanded role in supporting space infrastructure and driving innovation within the space industry?
Where we are in the aerospace industry is the industry that has not been as rapid to understand and adopt cloud as maybe the medical community or the financial community, but that is changing right now in front of our eyes. And so, one of the reasons we created this business in AWS is because we recognized space is all about data. It’s about how are you going to manage, move, analyze and draw insights from the data.
So, it becomes a big data management problem and that’s exactly what AWS is good at. The fact that everything about space is about data and the cloud is good at data, it’s a perfect marriage.
The second piece is the basic tenet of the cloud is don’t invest millions of dollars of your own money to create capabilities that don’t really differentiate your mission. The basic idea of the cloud is we remove all of the barriers to meeting the high-end mission requirements, and we let them focus on the high-end mission requirements. So, the cloud by its very nature allows companies to go faster and to innovate faster. There is a lot of opportunity for us in the space and cloud industry.
2. Why is it vital to decrease the entry barriers to the space industry, and what benefits does it bring?
As technology has increased, and as we’ve expanded our understanding about how space can be used, the number of people and the number of industries that use space has continued to expand. So, what we’re finding right now today is people are using space to do climate management. In India, in particular, looking at earth observation data to help make decisions about climate management about city planning.
We’re seeing companies and organizations that are using space data to do disaster management. We’re seeing companies that are using space data for agriculture, security. Working with a number of companies in Australia, that are using space data, to look at crop development and identify ahead of time where crops are going to be weak because they haven’t gotten enough moisture the previous season. This allows food relief organizations to come in and set up food relief.
The reason we believe it’s important to lower the barrier is because we want to put more space data in the hands of more people in more parts of the world than ever before. When you put more data in the hands of more people, people figure out new and innovative ways to use it. So, at AWS, we call this the making the world a better place from space, all the ways that we can help the world be better using space data. The more we can lower those bars of entry the more we can help people get the benefits of space.
3. What are some of the significant challenges where the scale and power of cloud computing and analytics have proven critical in advancing missions?
One of the practical applications is with Hermeus (Hermeus Corporation is an American startup company from Atlanta, Georgia focused on the development of commercial hypersonic aircraft) using AWS Cloud. They’re able to run 1000s of iterations of design in a period of days where it would have taken months. So not only does that allow them to go much faster, but they are also saving a lot of money.
Another example is about a company called Leolabs in the United States, they operate a global network of ground base radars. The ground-based radar is identifying all the objects that are in low Earth orbit, and then notifies companies in space agencies when they have a potential for collisions. So, it’s space traffic management, collision avoidance. There’re some 3500 objects in space today that are being monitored, whether it’s satellites or large pieces of debris by their aid radars. Assessing the probability of a collision from 3500 objects against 3500 objects over a 24-hour period with the best computers takes eight hours. When they moved that to the AWS cloud, it takes them 10 seconds.
What we went from is no ability to do state space traffic management at all, to a real-world, real-time space traffic management capability that didn’t exist without the power of cloud. So that’s how we’re seeing cloud fundamentally changing the way the space industry operates, doing things that you could never do before without the power of speed and scale of the cloud.
4. What are the current trends and factors contributing to the current momentum and advancements in space technology, and how are they shaping the future of the industry?
There are a couple of things like digital twins, digital modeling and simulation. Artificial intelligence is a game changer, we’re seeing people use AI in ways that we never imagined. Now that we have generative AI coming out, that’s going to be a game changer for us too. So, the organizations that really master the use of digital engineering, modeling and simulation and artificial intelligence machine learning those organizations are really going to rise to the top.
We’re working hard to spend time with space startups and space companies in India, because we know India has a really ambitious space goal. India’s space economy today is estimated to be about $10Bn but that represents about 2% of the total around the globe which is estimated at about $470Bn. India has so much talent, capability and technology. India has set out a plan to try to grow that to 10% by 2030. So that’s just six, seven years to grow from 2% to 10%. Looking at the number of space startups in India, ISRO had some great successes in the last year, it’s achievable. What we want to do is help position the cloud so that the cloud is a critical foundational capability that Indian space is building upon, because we think we can help India achieve that goal.
AWS has provided free cloud skills training to 4 million people in India since 2017.It’s our belief, the more people that we can train to understand the cloud, it’s going to improve economically, socially, improve the technology base. Secondly, with a deep understanding they’re going to be able to go out and get jobs and build their businesses on the cloud and the cloud will continue to expand. Those are the kinds of investments we want to make in India. We just announced that we’re investing $12.7Bn in cloud infrastructure in India by 2030 because we really want to help the Indian economy and Indian technology skill set grow.
5. How are the general public likely to benefit from the cloud-enabled advances in the aerospace industry, particularly in terms of improved accessibility, enhanced Earth observation, and environmental monitoring?
Environmental monitoring is really important. Talking about the applications of space environmental monitoring, there are two things. There’s a company in Houston, Texas called Scepter that started working with ExxonMobil which is a big oil and gas company in the US. They’re using space data to monitor methane gas emissions to determine where they might have methane escapes and gas leaks. We can see that from space with hyperspectral imagery. So, that’s a really important way to use space data to improve climate monitoring.
We can do carbon-based emissions monitoring, there’s a company out of the UK that’s measuring manmade thermal emissions from manmade objects on earth. We’re seeing companies that are also using space daily to protect wildlife. There’s a company we work with called GateHouse Maritime, they’re using satellites to monitor the migration of endangered whales into shipping lanes off the coast of California.
So, those are just all the things we can do with space data, making the world a better place from space. Those are all the ways we want to help the world population continue to benefit from space, which is why we also want to work so hard to put more space data in the hands of more users and more places around the globe than ever before. So, more and more people can enjoy those benefits.
6. What are the key advancements and achievements in the aerospace and satellite sectors in India in recent years?
There’s a company called Skyroot that operates in India. It’s a launch company, and we’ve been working with them. In November 2022, Skyroot had the first successful launch for an Indian Space startup on Indian soil that we know of. So, that was a big win for Skyroot.
When you go into February, ISRO partnered on a new SSLV (Small space launch vehicle) that put up a new Indian earth observation satellite and launched two cube sats. ISRO also in February had a successful Gaganyaan capsule landing event where they did a test landing of the Gaganyaan capsule in a pool and tested out all the ability to rescue the people out of it.
In April, India just launched the first new satellite of the navigation constellation. So, we’re watching the progress in launch capability via the Gaganyaan, launch capability in the startups like with Skyroot, ISRO capabilities itself and then we’re seeing new navigation satellites going up.
So, India’s space economy is growing rapidly and they’re having some tremendous successes. We estimate there are probably some 150 Space startups in India right now today, one of which is Kawa Space. Kawa applied to our AWS space accelerator program and was selected. We had 100 applicants and we selected 13, Kawa was one of them. They’re using space data to monitor cell phone signals and radio signals trying to identify illegal shipping, illegal maritime, smuggling operations, cargo smuggling, human smuggling, drug smuggling. They’re trying to identify all that by monitoring signals from ships from space.
We’re happy to support a lot of startups coming up in India through our space startup program. There’s a lot to be excited about in the Indian space market right now.
7. How do you see the integration of cloud computing and aerospace technologies contributing to the advancement of the aerospace industry in India?
There’s a growing interest in geospatial capability. People in India want to monitor the climate, monitor city planning, monitor wildlife, want to do maritime monitoring. There’s so much that the cloud can do with geospatial. So, it’s a data problem. We’ve got more satellites than ever before bringing more data down than ever before.
So, you can only process and understand that large volume of data using advanced cloud tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning. Cloud is going to be critical to the earth observation industry that’s growing rapidly in India. India right now has one of the fastest growing launch capabilities, a surge in commercial launch capabilities is observed than probably anywhere else right now. When we think about all the ways we can use high performance compute, digital modeling, simulation engineering to support rocket design and spacecraft design, there’s a whole lot the cloud can provide to the Indian market just by leveraging those capabilities.
8. What are some of the challenges or considerations that need to be addressed when implementing cloud solutions in the aerospace sector in India?
One of them is simply educating the space industry. The other part that’s really interesting is the growing desire for data sovereignty. In AWS we fully support data sovereignty, all of our customers own their own data. So, we bake security and privacy into everything we do. Only the customer gets to decide who gets to see their data and nobody else does. So, we’re big proponents of data sovereignty.
Countries want to maintain the data in their sovereign territories and we support that. We’ve developed a number of ways that we can do that. We’ve got data centers in most major industrialized countries, we’ve got regions in most countries, and if there isn’t one, we can build other things like outposts and edge computing capability.
9. As you travel to India in October this year, are there any specific companies that you would like to focus on for the collaboration?
For my trip in October in particular, it’s part of the geospatial intelligence symposium. The focus there will be on companies that do geospatial work. We’re setting up a list of companies that will be at the symposium that we want to meet with.
The other focus is better support to the startup industry. There are a lot of startups in India, we want to particularly help small companies learn how to build their operations and missions on the cloud. It’s a lot easier to create your company on the cloud and then grow on it. Then create your company in some other way and then try to back into the cloud. So, we see an opportunity with all the growing space companies in India to really focus our support on the startup community.