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Environment and Sustainability

Cal Poly Will Use Satellites to Address Critical Challenges on Earth — With Help from Amazon Web Services

Satellite Data Solutions Initiative to Operate Through Digital Transformation Hub at Cal Poly

Cal Poly today announced the Satellite Data Solutions (SDS) Initiative built on Amazon Web Services to harness data from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to address the planet’s most critical challenges. These challenges include forecasting natural disasters and assessing their impact, helping relief workers seek alternative access routes for delivering cargo or medical supplies, and weather tracking in order to alert ships and aircraft.

The initiative, which was announced at the AWS Public Sector Summit 2019 in Washington, D.C., is part of the Digital Transformation Hub (DxHUB) that was formed by Cal Poly and AWS to solve real-world challenges by providing innovation guidance to public sector organizations and their experts while offering Cal Poly student’s hands-on learning experience.

As the number and variety of satellites increases and new capabilities to perform data analytics evolves, there are tremendous opportunities to improve access to data collected by space-based platforms. With that data, it’s possible to provide services not previously available to the public, including rapid assessment of areas impacted by natural disasters such as tornados or earthquakes.

“Imagine looking at an area affected by a tsunami, tasking several satellites to collect and transmit imagery to the cloud and analyze the data in near-real time to determine areas hardest hit, and then sending emergency responders to the areas in most need first,” said Bill Britton, Cal Poly’s vice president for information technology services and chief information officer. “That’s what makes SDS so exciting: the opportunity for Cal Poly faculty members and students to work hand in hand with AWS and other industry professionals to make a tangible, positive change to the world.”

Through the SDS Initiative, DxHUB team members, including academic staff and students, will use AWS Ground Station to enhance solutions to public sector challenges by utilizing sensor and geospatial data collected by satellites for rapid processing and access. AWS Ground Station is a new service that makes it easy and cost-effective for customers to control data from satellites into AWS Global Infrastructure Regions using a fully managed network of ground station antennas located around the world.

The new SDS initiative will give students the opportunity to develop key workforce skills such as applying data science and machine learning (ML) to real world problems in the rapidly growing field of space technology, anchored by low-cost small and cube satellites. Cal Poly was one of the creators of the CubeSat Standard in 1999 and has contributed ever since through standards development, education, demonstrations, and by hosting the annual CubeSat Developer’s Workshop.

“The collaboration Cal Poly envisions through the SDS Initiative will enrich educational benefits to our students, faculty, and educational partners and operational benefits to the commercial satellite industry, including start-ups,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “With the DxHUB and our 20-year history with the CubeSat community, we can provide unique Learn by Doing experiences for our students while contributing to the common good of our planet.”