Combining SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation and Microsoft’s software expertise, Azure Space will become a significant player in the developing space economy, joining competitors such as Amazon’s Project Kuiper and OneWeb.

Goldman Sachs has valued the space economy at more than $350bn, forecasting that it will grow to over $1 trillion in the next 20 years. Given the market’s potential, it is easy to see why Microsoft has partnered with Elon Musk’s visionary enterprise as it attempts to establish a foothold in the sector.

Satellites meet the cloud

By gaining access to Starlink, Microsoft has secured a satellite broadband network for its new Azure modular data centres, self-contained movable data centre units that can act as repeaters. These modular data centres could bring connectivity and Microsoft’s cloud computing services to the world’s most remote areas.

Microsoft has also expanded its space portfolio with Azure Orbital – a ground station as a service offering that allows customers to collect, store, and process satellite data on a pay-as-you-go basis – and Azure Orbital Emulator, an in-orbit environment simulator helping users prepare for space missions, which promises to reduce satellite launch costs. With these products, Microsoft has positioned itself as a strategic partner for satellite communication companies and, for the time being, does not seem interested in launching its own satellite constellation.

Improving internet access around the world would bring clear benefits. The increased availability of satellite data could also be crucial in improving natural disaster response, managing the risk associated with unstable weather patterns for both businesses and communities, and finding solutions to climate change.

Cities that otherwise would not be thought of as ‘tech hubs’ are becoming home to multinational giants that foster talent.

Space: the next tech frontier

With Azure Space, Microsoft joins an already crowded competitive landscape. Established names in the satellite connectivity industry, such as Iridium, Telesat, and Boeing, all face competition from new entrants, for example companies that focus solely on using satellite networks to increase connectivity, such as startup OneWeb, and big tech companies expanding into the space sector.

Notably, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has invested heavily in the field through Project Kuiper and Blue Origin. Bezos has not only been working on an offer similar to Microsoft’s with Amazon Web Service ground stations but, through Blue Orbit, is also developing a satellite constellation, a potential rival to SpaceX.

Increased private and public investment suggests that space is the next tech frontier. This theory is given additional weight by the involvement of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who have an outstanding track record of predicting future trends.

If space and satellite technologies evolve as expected, the space economy will become a highly lucrative opportunity. This is particularly true for tech companies, for whom increased satellite-based connectivity will directly translate into an expanded customer base.

An array of private companies has completed satellite launches into orbit. Innovations brought about by private research and investment, including reusable rockets and mass-produced satellites, have lowered the barrier to entry across the sector. It appears that the sky is no longer the limit.

Image: A recent space launch under SpaceX's Starlink mission. Credit: SpaceX

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