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The S in re:MARS — AWS Space & Satellite
by Daniel Newman | July 8, 2022

On this episode of The Six Five – On The Road hosts Patrick Moorhead and Daniel Newman sat down with Clint Crosier, AWS Director of Space and Satellite at the recent Amazon event re:MARS in Las Vegas, to discuss the S in re:MARS — AWS Space & Satellite — an ever-growing arm of AWS.

In this conversation, they cover:

  • How the cloud can help launch the space and satellite business
  • Potential consequences of increasing the number of satellites in orbit
  • The many ways AWS is helping to bolster the space sector
  • How AWS technologies are being used in the first ever interplanetary mission

To learn more about the event, check out the website here.

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Catch the other conversations here:

The M in re:MARS — AWS Machine Learning

The A & R in re:MARS — AWS Automation and Robotics

The Six Five On the Road at Amazon re:MARS

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Transcript:

Daniel Newman: So Clint, it is great to be here. Here we are at a real live event. Amazon REMAR is all about gosh, machine learning, AI and automation, robotics. But we’re here to talk space

Clint Crosier: Space.

Daniel Newman: It’s great to see you, thanks for coming here. My gosh, we have I’ve seen space suits, I’ve seen space crafts, sat through a couple cool keynotes and it’s been amazing.

Clint Crosier: Great. Great. That was the idea. The idea is we’re trying to tee up all the things that AWS is doing to support, and enable, and help grow and innovate across the space industry. So, terrific. I’m glad you saw some of that.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s so exciting to have you here with the Six Five: On The Road here at Amazon re:MARS. By the way, just thrilled, first time re:MARS for myself.

Patrick Moorhead: Me too.

Daniel Newman: Done the reinvent show, and that’s awesome, but this is awesome in its own way. Like I said, tip of the spear, coolest geekiest, furthest out there, future forward technology and the keynote is just overwhelming. Let’s get to you. Want to learn about you, Clint Crozier, AWS. Tell everybody about your job, yourself, you spent like 30 plus years in the military. Give us the background so much for everybody to know.

Clint Crosier: I know you’ve had other guests tell you this before, but I’m going to tell you, I have the coolest job in the world. So-

Patrick Moorhead: Wait a second. I thought I did?

Clint Crosier: Well, maybe it’s a tie. So 33 years on active duty with the US air force. I had the wonderful pleasure of being the lead architect and lead planner for the standup and creation of the US Space Force in the last couple of years of my career. So 33 years flying satellites, launching rockets. I’ve done everything from fly satellites to command entire bases, Buckley Air Force Base in Denver.

I had the opportunity to command the GPS satellite constellation at one point in my career. Everybody in the world has used GPS at one time or another, so that was a lot of fun. And then as we got the Space Force up and running, I had this tremendous opportunity. As I announced my retirement, there’s one thing I knew, I wanted to stay close to space. And then Amazon called and said, “We’ve got a great idea. We’re seeing the rapid growth of the space industry and we know our cloud computing tools can really infuse innovation into the space industry. And we need somebody to help make that happen. We need somebody who can help the space community understand the untapped value of the cloud in space.”

So that’s the job that I was able to get, and that’s what I get to do every day.

Daniel Newman: So AWS is all about the cloud. Clouds are in the stratosphere. But what do clouds have to do with space? You hinted at it a little bit, but can you talk about-

Patrick Moorhead: Setting them up.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Why it’s in there.

Clint Crosier: So this is such a perfect marriage, and it really is. So my whole career flying satellites and launching rockets, for my end, I’m on the operational end of the mission. For me, it’s all about the satellites and the rockets. And as much as I hate to say it, it is not, and has never been, all about the satellites and rockets. It’s all about the data that comes down from the satellites and rockets. So we’re living in environment today where we’re going to have a 10 X increase in the amount of data coming down from space in the next 3, 5, 7 years. Petabytes and petabytes of data coming down. More data frankly than we know how to manage.

So how do you manage that data? Collect the data, store it, analyze it, move it around, disseminate it, make useful insights in real time of it securely? And it turns out that’s exactly what the cloud is good at doing. So the cloud offers a perfect solution to the challenges the space community is facing with managing, and organizing, and leveraging these large volumes of data coming down from space.

Daniel Newman: That’s incredible. Yeah. There’s so many applications, and I sit there and I start thinking in my head all the possibilities and, of course, and you’re going to talk more, we’re going to get to some of the things we saw in the keynotes, future communities in space, and that of course is going to require all the same data center technologies that we have here on Earth. But a job like yours is really large. I know we had a little behind the scenes tying together the other night.

So I’m a little more informed than maybe everyone out there at what you’re up to, but as we started rattling off use cases you’re like, “Wow, there’s a lot of them. A lot of different things.” But I’m guessing right now, just to try to convince the market, get people to buy in, you got to fickle society right now that has mixed emotions about space, what are the areas that you feel you can dive into, focus on right now, and get a lot of value and start to prove this idea of bringing the cloud to space?

Clint Crosier: Yeah. Well, what I really love about AWS is that they have given me and us, our team, all the resources we need to meet our customer requirements. So as long as customers keep leveling requirements on us, we continue to grow our business. So we’ve grown a lot in the last two years since we’ve stood up.

But the good part of that is whether it’s a company that’s using space and cloud for space exploration, and we do a lot of that and we’ll talk about that, or whether it’s one of these companies that, I like to say, our line of effort is focused on making the world a better place from space.

So whether it’s applying space to the agriculture industry, or the maritime safety, or the mining, or even wildlife management and climate control, we’ve been able to assign experts across all those missions who can help those space operators and space entrepreneurs figure out how to use that space data for those values.

Daniel Newman: When we had our dinner a couple nights ago, you talked about things that could be done in space, making maybe some drugs and also, what you just mentioned, growing things there. Why is space a better place to do that to help earth? I was thinking, “Okay, these would all be done for people who might have to live out there.” Right? Butt can you do a drill down, maybe give an example of that?

Clint Crosier: Yeah. So as we think about this making the world a better place from space, which I love, I’m very passionate about that, but let me run you through a couple of use cases.

So we’re working with a company right now called Exci out of Australia, and they’re using space data to identify the outbreak of wildfires in remote parts of the Australian Bush within three minutes of ignition. So when you think about wildfire management, if you can identify an outbreak within three minutes, and that applies not just in Australia, but everywhere in the world, think about if you can vector a crew in within three minutes of ignition, vice three hours or three days. So, that makes a huge difference.

We’re working with a company called Gatehouse Maritime out of California that’s using satellite data to monitor the migration patterns of whales and report to shipping vessels when whales are migrating through the shipping lanes. So think about that. We’re working with companies that are focused on food security, Digital Earth Africa, move their AIML capability to the AWS cloud, decrease the time it takes them to make predictions about food security and crop health by 800%. And they’re using that to identify areas where crops aren’t getting enough water, where pests have invaded in the crops, and where they can posture food relief forces, and capabilities.

So the use cases are just amazing. You talked about medicine. So those are a number of ways we’re seeing space being used here on Earth. But the other thing that’s really interesting is there are experiments going on right now in space, and by-

Daniel Newman: Like right now, this isn’t theoretical?

Clint Crosier: Right now in space medical research on the international space station and others, where because of the unique properties of microgravity, they’re able to do things with cancer research that they can’t do on the ground. They’re able to do DNA sequencing a little bit different then when we do it under gravity. So whether it’s a manufacturer of new vaccines, and new medicines, and we’re working with a company who tells us that they believe they can manufacture fiber optics in micro gravity, which would have a 10 X increase in transmission capacity than fiber optics developed on the surface of the Earth. So the use cases that are being looked at about the kind of things you can do is just amazing.

Daniel Newman: Wow. I’m imagining a Silicon fab in the sky here.

Clint Crosier: Well, so you heard orbital reef, Blue Origin talked about orbital reef, and they are building orbital reef right now today. Axiom space is building a commercial module to the international space station. Both of those companies have the vision of building a commercial park in space.

So you could envision manufacturing satellite parts in orbit. Think about satellite servicing. My whole career, when you launch a satellite into space, there’s nothing you can do once it’s on orbit. If one of the solar arrays breaks you’re done. Now, if you have a station in orbit, you can manufacture solar array replacement parts, send a crew or robot out to the broken satellite, fix it on orbit, and avoid having to launch a new satellite from the ground or dispose of or burn in on entry, the satellite that wasn’t working. It’s powerful what we can do.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. I’d like to step back just a second. We had the favor of actually learning about orbital reef for the first time. I know you had talked about it before. But can you tell the audience what you’ve been working on? Let’s say, probably the three cooler things, until we get into your announcement, the space accelerator, orbital reef, and the third one was even Mars.

Daniel Newman: And let me just interject really quick because I can’t get this fab in this sky out of my head. I just want to paint that picture for everybody that’s out there, like the millennium Falcon up in space, or where’s Darth in this whole thing? But seriously-

Clint Crosier: On orbit satellite repair will be huge. The cost of putting a brand new satellite from Earth into space is enormous. It’s coming down, but it’s enormous. Now, think about if you can manufacture either satellite components of parts, or manufacturing entire satellites on a space station in Leo, and then deploy them into space. It would be a hundredth of the cost.

Daniel Newman: The distance, so this is where basically his question’s going though, was the distance between earth and every single time you have to launch, it’s huge.

Clint Crosier: Here’s the analogy, ship builders don’t build ships in the desert and then port them to the sea. They built them on the coast and then launch them into the sea. It’s the same analogy. We’re building satellites in the desert today and launching them to the ocean. We don’t want to keep doing that. And these orbital habitats like Axiom and Blue Origin orbital reef, they will allow us to do those kinds of things.

Daniel Newman: So, so far we’ve talked a little bit about orbital reef, which I thought was amazing when I saw the mockups for what it was. It literally looks like it reminded me of 2001 of Space Oddessy.

Clint Crosier: Yeah. We have a setup, we have a VR reality augmented reality hub set up downstairs where you can put the headphones on and you think you’re in the orbital reef, and you get to walk around and see what life is going to be like living in space.

Daniel Newman: So would you do it?

Clint Crosier: I would. Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: So you get on the list, because some of the stuff’s like pre-selling. I think it’s important to point that out. One of the most interesting things I learned yesterday listening to you and your counterparts at at Amazon talking about orbital reef though for instance, is I think a lot of the world thinks this stuff is happening like this is just prototype future speak-

Clint Crosier: It’s happening now. Yeah, it’s happening right now today.

Daniel Newman: And what is happening, there’s a pre-sale list, and I’m not sure we qualify, but of people who are ready to basically go live… And, by the way, we didn’t really talk about this either, Pat, but there is some actual planetary considerations. We spend a lot of time talking about climate change and sustainability, we have an Earth that we don’t quite know where we’re at in terms of physics, and meeting its capacity, and the resources. And there are people out there really in this group, and around your ecosystem, that are really trying to solve for what do we do?

Patrick Moorhead: Well, they’re calling it an extinction event. So..

Clint Crosier: Well, so who knows, but here’s what’s really interesting. The best way to learn is to look at orbiting bodies like the moon and other planets like Mars. So we are supporting the Mohamed Bin Rashid space center right now today who has a satellite orbiting Mars, who’s taking samples of the atmosphere to help us understand how Mars was created as it could relate to the Earth’s atmosphere. And we’re supporting NASA’s Rover, perseverance Rover, on the surface of Mars right now today. They’re bringing all their data back and analyzing it on AWS because our systems could analyze and distribute the data faster than their on-premises capabilities could do it. So, it’s just fascinating the kind of things we can learn.

Patrick Moorhead: So you… oh, go ahead.

Daniel Newman: No, I was just going to say, we could talk to you a lot about the philosophical stuff, and by the way I love that, because it’s just a little different than our typical SixFive content, we’re..

Patrick Moorhead: Well, and this does require market education. This isn’t something that people fully understand. And I think the general public is even fascinated by this now and companies landing booster rockets, and watching failed temps before. People are back into space. Now, I was born in the sixties, not in the fifties, but the fascination seems to be back-

Clint Crosier: I think so.

Patrick Moorhead: And there has to be reeducation of the possibility as opposed to, I don’t know, some space race for the Cold War.

Clint Crosier: Right. And that’s why the making life better here on Earth is so important, better understanding our environment and our atmosphere. I have a thesis, by the way, about what you said about space, people paying attention. Here’s my thesis, you tell me if you agree. Space is cool.

Daniel Newman: I mean, absolutely.

Clint Crosier: There it is. There you have it. Space is cool, and it just captures our imagination. And we’re just at the tip of the spear of what we can do. When you bring people with deep space expertise, and at AWS we’ve built a large team with expertise across every part of the space mission from launch, to design, to on orbit operations, me included. And when you couple that with our deep cloud experts, it really lets us do some innovative things.

Daniel Newman: All right. So I want to bring this back to the cloud for a minute because that’s where we started, and as we get towards the end of this I want to… you had an announcement here. Something kind of cool, something kind of exciting, and by the way, something I think our audience will really understand.

Patrick Moorhead: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: Talk about what you announced here and about the significance of it.

Clint Crosier: So happy to do that, and thanks for the opportunity. So here’s how I will set this up. The world has come to understand the value of the cloud. Terrestrial here on Earth, we’re using the cloud for everything, and businesses know they need to be on the cloud or they won’t stay competitive or successful over time. So we’ve learned all that.

And at AWS, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve developed a pretty good track record about pushing the cloud to the edge. Everybody needs cloud, including remote, disconnected, disadvantaged users, mobile, remote, et cetera. So we’ve built the edge of the cloud, pushing the cloud to users rather than bringing users to the cloud, because it saves them money, reduces their latency, improves their ability to innovate. So, as we see the space industry grow and all these space missions, we have recognized that we have to move the cloud closer and closer to our customers.

And in my case, that means moving the cloud closer and closer to space. That means moving the cloud into space, and we are happy to announce this week, we’ve been working on this for a year. We launched it back in April. We’re just now coming out from behind the black curtain, but we have partnered with Axiom Space and NASA, and we took a snow cone, which is a commercial off the shelf edge computing device that you can get right now today for your edge computing needs, and we went through the full NASA flight certification. Shock, vibration acoustics, all the things that you do to get a flight qualified box, and we qualified this for flight.

Axiom put it on their AX1 mission, which is the first all private astronaut mission to the commercial space station. They took the snow cone with them. We pulled it out, we hooked it up, we turned it on, and we ran a sophisticated machine learning model to it to do object detection inside the international space station to document the 25 experiments that Axiom and the astronauts were working.

So what we did, essentially, was we just demonstrated the ability to do edge computing, storage analytics compute, on orbit, in space, on the international space station for the first time ever.

Daniel Newman: It redefines the whole definition of edge computing, I mean-

Clint Crosier: It really does.

Daniel Newman: And we’re not talking about some smartphone-based compute device. There’s 14 terabytes of storage-

Clint Crosier: 14 terabytes.

Daniel Newman: -that are available. And doing the crunching and phoning home to the AWS cloud-

Clint Crosier: That’s right. When you need to [inaudible]

Patrick Moorhead: By the way, hold that thing up, because we have a camera here as well. [inaudible] So this isn’t the one from the mission, but it’s close.

Clint Crosier: This isn’t the one, but it’s identical. All we did is take one off the shelf, which is fascinating. We may make some modifications in the future because there is a big customer demand for this.

Daniel Newman: But it’s great. You took an off the shelf product and got it certified for space. So it also means your building some pretty robust gear over there at AWS.

Clint Crosier: It says a lot about the ruggedized application of the snow cone, for sure. But I’ll tell you, we went through a lot of work to get it flight certified. It was a seven month process to get it flight certified, and rightly so. There are human beings on the space station, and we didn’t want to endanger that, but we passed every one of them.

And what’s really exciting now is we’ve got medical research companies who tell us that they would run a genome sequencing experiment in microgravity to the point we you talked about earlier, and then they would spend the next 18 hours downloading the data. And so they’d run an experiment and then log off for 24 hours until they got the data back.

Now, with one of these on orbit, we can crunch all that data and do that in analytics in about 20 minutes. So from 24 hours to 20 minutes, we’ve increased by 20 times the amount of science time available on the international space station. So this is really, we believe, this ushers in a brand new era of innovation in space and cloud working together.

Daniel Newman: I totally want to get to space.

Patrick Moorhead: No, I totally do. Can you get us on a list? Do you know anybody?

Clint Crosier: I know some people, but I’m going to try to sign up before you.

Daniel Newman: I want to do a follow up call with you in space.

Clint Crosier: As long as I’m signed up ahead of you.

Daniel Newman: You go to space, we’ll pod from space, and then we’ll use the snow cone to be able to get it back to Earth so we can stream it live.

Patrick Moorhead: We’ll do the video editing from the snow cone.

Clint Crosier: We could absolutely do that. Absolutely do that.

Daniel Newman: I love it, and what I’m really struck overall too is about the private public partnerships in this new generation of space. Amazing things were done the past 40, 50 years, but I’ve seen this acceleration where public companies and government get together and make it even better, and compress time, just like you’re talking about with compressing time and results.

Clint Crosier: We did this in five months, seven months.

Daniel Newman: And that is just completely amazing. And also, this isn’t an announcement that says you’re fixing to go to space. This is actually on the ISS right now.

Clint Crosier: We are doing cloud computing in space right now today.

Daniel Newman: Right, and I think that’s cool.

Clint Crosier: And by the way, it’s still on orbit. We completed the first experiment and we are open to do follow on experiments with this box on the international space station right now.

Patrick Moorhead: Exciting stuff.

Daniel Newman: Well, listen, the future is bright. It’s exciting. It’s been so great to spend some time.

Clint Crosier: My pleasure.

Daniel Newman: Like I said, for me, I did grad school, I went back. It was almost like PhD in a weekend. And I might just put Dr. Daniel Newman. There’s probably some place I could sign up that will send me that certificate, right?

Patrick Moorhead: There we go.

Daniel Newman: But in all serious, learned so much, so many smart people, some really just great energy here, Pat. And I got to say, re:MARS, we’re going to have to do this again.

Clint Crosier: Come on back.

Daniel Newman: This is not the last time. This may be one of the coolest shows. And if you’re out there, this is one of those things probably should be checking this out, because whether you’re in the everyday grind of being a CIO, a CTO, you’re a semiconductor software, hardware. This is what are we doing this all for? And this is kind of the aggregate here, robotics and AI. This isn’t about robotics and AI, it’s about what’s changing the world.

Clint Crosier: [inaudible] So, I’m the S part of Mars, but this is all about how we integrate all of those. Because everything I just described has robotics, and artificial intelligence, and automation involved in it. So yes, here at AWS, we are moving the cloud into space and it will create a whole new era of space innovation.

Patrick Moorhead: So… go ahead.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. So Clint, let’s stop, this is a good place to stop here. We just want to thank you for coming on the SixFive: On the Road at re:MARS, and we are talking about space. Let’s do this again sometimes.

Clint Crosier: My pleasure. Thank you both for being here.

Daniel Newman: Take care.

Clint Crosier: Thank you.

Patrick Moorhead: Great to have you.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio