Satellite tracking systems are becoming a whole lot easier to create and deploy to space. Once upon a time, it cost billions for a company or organization to have access to satellite tracking. Now, researchers use them to track wildlife, logistics companies are tracking shipping containers and National Geographic even tracked a discarded plastic bottle from Bangladesh to the Indian Ocean, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Nanosatellites. This has all become possible thanks to technology called nanosatellites, or nanosats or cubesats for short.
Helpful explainer video from NASA about how cubesats get launched into space:
What’s behind the rise of nanosats?
- Smaller satellites. Thanks to the smartphone industry, all electronics have become miniaturized, so cheap, small and effective satellites are now possible to make.
- Decreased launch costs. SpaceX, active national space programs like India’s, and an array of new launch technologies, from reusable boosters to 3-D-printed engines have reduced the cost of launching a satellite.
- New long-distance, low-power wireless communication standards that can work as well in outer space as on the ground.
Affordability is all relative
“Megaconstellations” of hundreds or even thousands of large satellites cost billions of dollars – think SpaceX or Blue Origin. But networks of up to 100 nanosats can cost in the tens of millions which is still expensive but well within reach of many companies.
Some notable nanosat startups:
- Momentus. CA-based, commercial space company providing in-space infrastructure services
- Lacuna Space. UK company with three communications satellites in orbit
- Smart Parks. Dutch company providing LoRaWAN (low power, wide range networks) to manage wildlife in refuges to prevent poaching.
- Swarm Technologies. CA-based company working on the first commercially available nanosatellite constellation of 45 satellites accessible on demand by customers.
- Astrocast. Swiss-based with larger satellites than Swarm and capable of adjusting orbit and position after launch.
It’s early days for the nanosat industry, and all of the competing companies in the space could result in some consolidation or the realization that there is not enough demand to warrant their existence. It could go either way or both.