Thousands of small satellites (smallsats) are changing how scientists process environmental data.
- Startups like Quub and Planet Labs have begun deploying “constellations” of small satellites into Earth orbit that can track environmental data—air quality, deforestation, erosion, forest fires, etc.
- These new satellites can be as small as a carton of milk, deployed en masse, and built from cheap, environmentally safe materials.
- SpaceX’s Starlink satellites have shown the technology is already available and applicable, with roughly 3,700 smallsats in orbit providing internet access to remote areas of the world.
Why It’s Important
The new space race has already begun, and it is being led by pioneering startups and private companies that have the ambition to recognize potential hurdles in the coming race to the Moon and Mars and profit from creating unique solutions.
Quub is one such company. Speaking with visual politics analyst Hunter Schwarz, founder Joe Latrell says that the company only had one person last year but has grown into a 20-person team with Air Force contracts and ambitions to launch 400 smallsats by 2025—which can provide daily updates with environmental data around the world.
“If a forest fire were to start in, say, the middle of California, we would spot it before anybody else does because the anomaly system would go off,” says Latrell.
Smallsats allow researchers and startups to rapidly push new spacecraft into orbit with environmentally safe materials and cheaper expenses. As Schwarz notes, 400 spacecraft were launched in 2019, and that number increased to 1,800 in 2021.
Nine out of ten satellites launched are smallsats, most of which are Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX. Roughly 50% of all manmade objects in orbit—totaling 7,300—are Starlink satellites, and that number will grow, Science News reports.