Nanosatellites: Small & Powerful

Tiny satellites disrupting businesses

Satellite technology has really taken off in the last few years. Innovators and disruptors are currently looking to satellites as a way to provide ubiquitous connectivity, making the Internet available to everyone. Satellites have enabled more accurate navigation systems (even if your sat nav does occasionally direct you into a field), and they help us predict weather conditions. The development of reusable rockets has made it far easier to get satellites into orbit by cutting material wastage and saving costs. So, what’s next for satellite tech? Just like computer chips, the aim is to make them smaller, yet more efficient. In March 2016, Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia launched the first nanosatellite, constructed by a 3D printer. So, who are the major contributors to the sector, and how will they disrupt different industries?

Eyes in the sky

The nanosatellite market is predicted to be worth a cool $6.35 billion by 2021. The little satellites will gradually need less human intervention, hovering watchfully over the planet. Companies like Planet are applying the spacebound devices to emergency response, and have sent 150 nanosatellites into orbit to create detailed maps of affected areas. The maps can identify road blockages and important buildings or facilities before sending in human teams. Another startup in the sector is Spire. The company gathers data from the world’s oceans for various clients, including piracy forecasting companies – yep, they exist. The tech also has a place within AgriTech by doing exactly the same thing as drones but on a larger scale. Other possible applications include surveillance and reconnaissance. Today, the US governmental and military space budget comprises over half of global space spending. Nonetheless, big companies and ambitious space startups alike are working avidly on nanosatellite tech. A current trend is the development of satellite constellations. SpaceX’s fleet, for example, is 4,425 strong. Presumably, the smaller the satellites, the easier it is to accumulate bigger fleets. That’s a lot of concentrated power – but how will it affect other industries?

Nanosatellites are hugely disruptive, collecting more data than ever about the Earth’s surface. Not only will there be a higher quantity of info, but it will be more or less instantaneous, which means that events could be tracked in real time. This is interesting from a geographic point of view, helping natural scientists and conservationists to learn more about the world. Fluctuations in the natural world are incredibly important for agriculture, too. Greenhouses and vertical farms have lessened this reliance, but agriculture still depends on unpredictable external influences. Satellite data already helps farmers to prepare for inclement conditions, and nanosatellites will continue to do the same on a deeper level. This disruption could help to respond to increased demand for food. Satellite data will also impact the shipping industry, improving routes by flagging up dangerous areas and storms. Aquaculture could also benefit from ocean metrics, curbing illegal fishing by identifying ships in restricted waters. Satellite data has also encouraged faster and more effective responses to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, without putting human surveyors at risk in dangerous environments. On the whole, satellite data is helping organisations to make more informed decisions which will have largely positive consequences. However, as always, businesses should be careful about how they get their data, and who they get it from. People simply don’t like being watched, so transparency is vital. This is especially the case for military and surveillance operations.

Space tech has come a long way since Russia launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. The nanosatellite sector is clearly a lucrative and useful industry, helping organisations to make better decisions. Advances in satellite manufacturing have been enabled by techniques like 3D printing and IoT connectivity, showing the willingness of space gazing firms to adopt innovation. The growing market also demonstrates how data can take the guess work out of our lives, leading to improvements in logistics, safety and general organisation. Even so, companies need to ensure that they’re open about datasets. Collecting information from the entire world is very different to logging the preferences of customers. Either way, whether we like it or not, there are more eyes on us than ever before.

Could your business benefit from nanosatellite data? Which other industries could be disrupted by nanosatellites? What are some potential barriers to nanosatellite development? Share your thoughts and opinions.