Inside the Arctic Circle, a partnership drives for greater space data via the cloud

A new Arctic region ground station for space data access and transmission is in the works with plans for it to be completed in the first quarter of next year.

The location of Utqiagvik, Alaska, at 250 miles inside of the Arctic Circle is only part of the story, as is the station’s purpose of helping U.S. government and commercial businesses access data created in and transmitted through space.

Cloud computing will be one of the station’s underlying capabilities once it goes live and conversations are ongoing with the major infrastructure providers to help make that happen, the CEO of one of the companies involved has told WT.

“We’re educating them on where we are, what we do, what kind of capacity and capabilities we have, and different methodologies where we can make our fiber infrastructure at this latitude cloud-enabled,” Quintillion CEO George Tronsue said.

Quintillion, an Anchorage, Alaska-based communications company, is partnering with ATLAS Space Operations to build the ground station to link the former’s fiber optic cable infrastructure with the latter’s global antenna network.

The idea is to have the cables, data centers, antennas and growing numbers of constellations work hand-in-hand to move data around the world quickly. Many satellites go over the Arctic region as they orbit for one, and launch costs continue to go down as the numbers of commercial players continue to rise, which is spurring industry-wide expectations that space will get increasingly crowded.

ATLAS already has nearly 20 stations on the ground worldwide and brings to the partnership “a number of government customers that they believe are going to use this ground station” in Alaska, Tronsue said.

So far this year, ATLAS has recorded a pair of wins such as a contract with NASA to participate in a study of space relay technology and another award from the Air Force to prototype electronically-steered antenna arrays.

One key dynamic government agencies work through regarding data is the scale of what they have at their disposal, and often laws or regulations that spell out how they have to retain and manage that data.

Enter into that equation the scale that commercial cloud infrastructures provide to not just store the data but also provide the architecture for using it.

Tronsue said Quintillion and ATLAS are first looking at having their own modular data center that can distribute at different service points on the network. The cloud piece can happen in one of two ways, as he described it.

“One way is we can just dedicate high-speed capacity to a location of their cloud, and then we are connected directly to one of the major cloud providers,” Tronsue said. “The other way to do that is to actually have some sort of equipment configured by their cloud people and then deploy that in our Atlantic station or in a separate modular building that we would put adjacent to our Arctic landing station.”

More announcements are on the way regarding what the data station can do for government agencies.

“I think we’ll be in a position to handle large data requirements that are already on the ground or coming from space, for both classified and unclassified type requirements,” Tronsue said.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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