Google Cloud and SpaceX spy an opportunity

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

May 14, 2021

  • Where’s the best place to install a LEO ground station?
  • Atop a data centre of course
  • Google and SpaceX ink a deal 

Google Cloud and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (the outfit that lands its rockets like launch film played backwards) have announced that SpaceX will locate ground stations for its Starlink satellite constellation in Google data centres under a new partnership deal. The companies say the tie-up will especially benefit organisations with ‘broad footprints’, such as public sector agencies, businesses operating at the network edge, and businesses operating from remote and rural locations. 

The partners say these enterprises often need to access applications running in the cloud, or to cloud services like analytics, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. The Starlink constellation of LEO satellites, which will offer broadband connectivity services around the world, offers a low latency path so they can deliver data and applications to teams distributed across countries and continents, quickly and securely, claim the cmpanies. 

The first Starlink terminal installation under the deal is due at Google’s New Albany, Ohio-based data centre. Google intends to share more detailed roll-out plans over the coming months and says the deal with Starlink will see the new capabilities becoming available in the second half of 2021

The deal is hardly a surprise since Google has already invested $900 million in Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which seems to indicate an intention to take early advantage of its capabilities. But remember that nothing in this new world where clouds meet networks is exclusive. The objective for both parties will be to sign up multiple ‘partners’ who have an interest in providing connections to paying customers either located inside the data centre in the case of Google Cloud or looking to use the broadband services offered by SpaceX. So we won’t be surprised to see SpaceX rolling out the welcome mat for the likes of Azure and even AWS which is putting its big bucks behind another satellite scheme - Amazon’s Kuiper constellation is being prepared as a rival to SpaceX. 

We believe this is unlikely to rule out promiscuous connectivity in the long run if that’s what customers demand to support their multi-cloud strategies via other big cloud providers. Most observers believe multi-cloud is the way forward.

The same dynamic will also surely be true for other LEO operators like the UK’s OneWeb which, as we reported earlier this week, has shown signs of continuing life with the announcement of the acquisition TrustComm, a US provider of managed satellite communications and professional services to commercial organizations and governments. With TrustComm under its belt OneWeb hopes to offer its LEO connectivity services to US government clients and TrustComm customers. 

OneWeb is a relatively modest fish in the big space pond, however. Bezos, of course, plans to spend $10 billion (or probably more) hoisting up 3000 satellites in a similar orbit to Starlink with his Kuiper System which is still at an early stage of development and currently has no satellites launched. SpaceX has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into the correct orbit so far, with more on the drawing board. 

Cue billionaire fisticuffs.

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