Spire is a startup that’s taking the Internet of Things into space, with constellations of tiny, customized, and easily-replaced satellites called CubeSats.
The CubeSat, first developed in 1999, has become a standardized form factor in academic settings for teaching aerospace and engineering students to build small, cheap spacecraft. Usually 10 centimeters to a side, a CubeSat is essentially a lightweight frame into which you can stuff lightweight electronics — like cameras, gyroscopes, or other sensors — to gather data from low-earth orbit.
Two factors set CubeSats apart from traditional satellites. First, the technology of, say, a Hubble Space Telescope is incredibly sophisticated and purpose-built — and therefore expensive. Second, traditional satellites are designed to occupy precise, high-altitude orbits and remain there for decades, and that means they need additional components to maintain their lofty positions. CubeSats, by contrast, are built with off-the-shelf parts and have a short lifespan, designed to drop out of orbit and burn up in the upper atmosphere after a few years
Spire began life in 2012 as the crowdfunded ArduSat project, which created an open-source platform for building Arduino-powered CubeSats that would make it easy for anyone with a little “maker” spirit to design their own apps and hardware for experimentation in space. After incubating at Lemnos Labs in San Francisco, Spire raised $25 million in series A funding earlier this year.
With large networks of CubeSats listening in on remote parts of the globe for unique RF frequencies, Spire offers the ability to collect data about places and activities that ground-based sensor networks have a hard time covering.
The company’s main focus is on the oceans (which are two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, after all), where it is developing applications for monitoring illegal fishing, high-seas piracy, and accidents as well as standard asset tracking. Since each individual satellite has a limited lifespan but is cheap and relatively easy to replace, the networks can be updated frequently. In tandem this combination of global coverage and updated technology provides the company and it’s subscribers with a unique birds-eye view of the global economy in real-time motion.
Learn more at Spire.com, and check out the video below to see technical details of the original ArduSat.