Sara Spangelo and Ben Longmier, two incredibly talented technologists and entrepreneurs with combined resumes that include stints at Google X, Apple, JPL, University of Michigan and a host of other places unveiled their new micro-satellite company, Swarm Technologies today. I have known them both for quite some time and have the highest respect for them. I have been aware of what they are doing and am really excited to see their public announcement.
With over 30 billion IoT devices expected globally by 2020, there is a real need for affordable connectivity solutions that are rapidly deployable and affordable. Having said that, existing communications satellites, although they increase in performance and throughput, haven’t changed significantly in price, size, or mass for decades. Swarm aims to change all of that. In less than a year the team has invented a new passive satellite stabilization scheme and built and launched four operational satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Their design relies solely on passive attitude stabilization and doesn’t require the large, heavy, and power-hungry components common in conventional satellites. The small size and low mass of their satellites makes them inexpensive to launch, providing advantaged economics for the deployment of a low bandwidth global network. Swarm’s planned future constellation of 100 satellites is targeting the problem of low-cost connectivity at a global scale and at a fraction of the price of larger systems.
According to Sara, Swarm’s four 1/4U satellites on orbit are 100% trackable via the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) operated by NORAD and independent tracking groups such as LeoLabs tracking services (search for “spacebee” to see their constellation). These on-orbit measurements show that Swarm’s 1/4U satellites have a radar signature as bright as that of conventional CubeSats. This is due to a radar retro-reflector technology onboard the satellites, which was developed by a US-Navy research and development lab, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific (SSC Pacific). A special 1/4U version of the SSC Pacific retroreflectors was developed under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with SSC Pacific. It is cool technology and allows Swarm to launch satellites that are a quarter of the cost of a typical 1U version.
They also have a low cost, solar powered ground station capable of up to 5kbps transmissions supporting all kinds of interesting IoT applications like their recently announced partnership with SweetSense, a global development technology company monitoring the function of water pumps in East Africa, where Swarm’s low-cost devices will help ensure uninterrupted access to clean drinking water.
The team has made incredible progress on both the technical and business development front with much more news to come. Huge congrats to Sara and Ben on a really incredible start!