AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub, powered by AWS, to accelerate satellite-driven innovation in education and the public sector

Cal Poly has announced the Satellite Data Solutions (SDS) Initiative to support the growing opportunity to solve the planet’s most critical challenges with using low earth orbit (LEO) satellite data.

Cal Poly was one of the inventors of the CubeSat in 1999 and has contributed ever since, through standards development, education, demonstrations, and by hosting the annual CubeSat Developer’s Workshop. The SDS Initiative will be accomplished as a track within the Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub), powered by AWS, which was established in 2017 to address some of the most pressing challenges in delivering a wide range of services to the public.

The DxHub will work closely with the AWS Ground Station team to test and improve satellite connectivity and improve access to satellite-acquired data to solve problems. Through the DxHub and the SDS Initiative, students and faculty will have access to AWS services, technologies, and technical expertise to experiment with ‘born-in-the-cloud’ solutions that build upon space-based data analytics.

As the number and variety of satellites increases and new capabilities to perform analytics on space data in near real-time evolve, there are new opportunities to improve access to data collected by space-based platforms and, with that data, to provide services not previously available to the public.

Cal Poly, a founding member of, is in a unique position to facilitate technical research that improves access to satellite resources via communication standards, antennae optimization, and other critical aspects that enable LEO satellites. The Cal Poly DxHub was designed as an innovation engine to solve real-world challenges working with public sector organizations and their experts. The SDS Initiative connects these capabilities to address both technical and public sector business challenges.

Technical challenges that will be addressed with orbital platforms include: improving the integration of command, control and communication capabilities with satellite developers and operators; enhancing testing and risk mitigation activities to assure confidence in on-orbit operations; and evaluating the ability to store, process, and analyze data to deliver critical information in near real-time. Public sector challenges that will be addressed include: wildfire mitigation; land-use planning and asset tracking; environmental analysis; and varied agricultural use cases.

In addition, Cal Poly has developed student education and training opportunities in satellite design, launch, and communications utilizing Cal Poly’s signature ‘learn by doing’ methodology. These opportunities will lead to the development of key workforce skills in the rapidly growing field of space technology, anchored by cloud computing and low-cost small and cube satellites.

AWS Ground Station is a fully managed service that lets customers control satellite communications, downlink and process satellite data, and scale their satellite operations without having to worry about building or managing their own ground station infrastructure. Because many AWS Ground Station antennas are located in close proximity to AWS Regions, customers have low-latency, local access to other AWS services to process and store this data seconds after being downlinked. Once customers receive satellite data at a ground station, they can process it in an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instance, store it in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), apply AWS analytics and machine learning services to gain insights, and use Amazon’s network to move the data to other regions and processing facilities. AWS customers can combine these capabilities to build exciting applications that might use:

  • Image recognition to identify and protect environmentally sensitive areas
  • Machine learning to predict faulty construction or industrial systems
  • Analytics to estimate oil production or assess agriculture yields in real time

This provides users such as emergency responders with access to rapidly changing geospatial and sensor data much more quickly, resulting in timely lifesaving emergency response. Via the DxHub challenge process, AWS is able to provide AWS Ground Station and cloud analytics usage credits for experimentation and student training. AWS will also provide specific expertise in satellite command, control and communications as well as data analytics to support the DxHub’s support to the technical and public sector challenges.

Through the SDS Initiative, the DxHub plans to publish out sample datasets whenever possible that can serve as test sets for others in the CubeSat/LEO community who want to experiment with real-time analytics. Datasets of value, which could include environmental snapshots and real-time data feeds, may be shared through the AWS Public Dataset program and published on the Registry of Open Data on AWS. By making these datasets available, the DxHub will help accelerate research that applies machine learning to Earth observation data.

All output from the DxHub will be made publicly available for open re-use globally. Cal Poly is one of seven cloud innovation centers (CIC) supported by AWS Worldwide Public Sector. The others are in Paris (Sciences Po – Public Innovation Lab), Munich (University of Applied Sciences – Digital Transformation Lab), Berlin (CODE University of Applied Sciences – Better Future Lab), Busan (City of Busan CIC), Melbourne (Swinburne University of Technology – Data for Social Good CIC), and Phoenix (Arizona State University – Smart Cities CIC). All of these centers will share their expertise and the output of innovation challenges to support the global public sector digital revolution. The centers invite government, educational, and nonprofit organizations to submit their challenges.