Small Satellites With a Huge Impact | Freethink’s The New Space Race


What NASA did with the Apollo
program was amazing. But the amounts of money that you
have to spend to do that were enormous. You can’t just do space for
the sake of doing space. So the only way to really
open up the frontier, is to show that the frontier is
worth opening up. Our satellites and our system that
we’re building has to pay for itself. It has to exist for its own right. Not just because it’s a cool thing to do but because it actually provides
value at the end of the day. It makes the world better. Kickstarter. We’ve all used it to give
our filmmaker or musician friends a couple of bucks for their
latest passion project. We don’t usually think it is a tool
that new space entrepreneurs are using to open up the frontier of space. But a company in Glasgow,
Scotland did just that. Welcome to Spire… the company that believes it’s on the cusp of revolutionizing the satellite industry. This is Joel Spark, one of the co-founders. The birth of Spire…
it was a bunch of us at grad school and there’s this thing called CubeSat. A satellite the size of a wine
bottle that makes it infinitely easier to get a satellite in space. But up until that point the prevailing idea was that CubeSats are toys. A typical large satellite is huge it’s like the size of a bus. It’s really expensive. It’s billions of dollars. Most big weather or communication
satellites will take 10-15 years to get built with the expectation that it will
then last another 15 years on orbit. So by the end of its lifetime every
component on board that satellite is 30 years old. A CubeSat is a completely different
methodology than a traditional satellite. And here’s where we come to
the revolutionary idea: What if they could build a lot of these
little CubeSats on the cheap? Get them into space really fast and then start linking them together. Suddenly it wouldn’t be about
single large satellites. It would be about a network. A constellation. But first they had to prove that
they could build a single CubeSat. So they launched a Kickstarter. We thought it was a good idea but you know that doesn’t that doesn’t say a lot of a couple of crazy students in
garage that are building something. The Kickstarter campaign was a decision point whether to go on from there
and start building this thing. Or go our own ways and never speak of it again. In July 2012 we started the kickstarter campaign. Hit our target in about three days and so
okay now we actually have to do this. And in about 12 months we go from
napkin sketches to a satellite in space. T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Ignition…and liftoff. It’s a weird sense of scale. We were watching the livestream of
this rocket blasting in the space where you have all your hopes and dreams and all these expectations
crammed in this little cube. You feel like the cube could fill the whole rocket. It feels like the rocket is your rocket. It’s not a toy. This is real. Congratulations on a successful deployment. So they got a CubeSat into outer space. That’s when the real work began… figuring out how to build
a business around them. Their first hires were not engineers they were there actually business people. What we really needed to do was to go
out to customers and various markets and see what are customers interested in,
what are industries interested in. One of the things they found was that there
was a real need in the are of weather prediction. So in 2017 we’re starting to see a lot
of NOAA and NASA satellites that are primarily used for weather reaching the end of their useful life span. And we don’t have anything that
replaces it right now. There is going to be this gap where we
currently have 30 year old technology or older that’s trying to keep the weather network alive. This is a simulation of just earth
and a satellite moving around it. So the dot is your satellite and
this target that I put here is… it could be extreme weather events
like hurricanes and tropical storms. The idea is even though this satellite that i’m simulating goes around
the earth every hour and a half that doesn’t mean you see the
whole world every hour and half. This one satellite travels around,
its going to see this target but it’s not going to see it
again until that target has rotated it all the way around to the other side so 12 hours later. And that could be a long 12 hours. A hurricane can change its
direction in less than an hour and depending on how much direction changes whether it shifts inland or outland
when you’re looking at a hurricane. The loss of life can go from zero to a
thousand or tens of thousands people depending on how that path changes over time. You need to be able to replace this capability And that’s what we think you can do with CubeSats. So the idea is instead of having one single satellite you have a constellation or a fleet. This is just a simulation but it shows that
by having lots of satellites in different places you can see how you have
a greater view of the planet. So this particular target that
you’re interested in you see very very frequently. When you make it possible for people
to get updates every minute and that’s actually showing a truer
course of that weather system you can directly impact people’s lives and possibly save people. Time will tell whether or not
team Spire is able to grow their constellation of CubeSats fast
enough to fill the impending weather gap But either way they truly believe
they’re on the cusp of a revolution. The beauty of CubeSat is that it’s in
essence a technology demonstration of a lot of things were going to need in
the future when going to other planets. What are we going to do about tracking
people on the surface of Mars We’re going have to bring with us a network
of small satellites to do all the stuff that we have currently happening on Earth. We’re really demonstrating the technology
that can be used in the future now. They have a lot of cathedrals here in Glasgow and one of the things I always found
interesting about cathedrals is when you read the plaques on
some of the really old ones they say this was built from this time to this time and sometimes the span of when they started and when they finished the cathedral
was hundreds of years. So the people who started and
who built the foundation and saw what the cathedral could
be and really designed it didn’t actually get to sit in it. But they still started and for me that’s
what I think Spire is doing now. We’re building a foundation because
we see that someday humanity could be using space to be better and
that’s what’s exciting about CubeSats. It’s not what it is. It’s what is going to be.

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