Nano-satellites will soon connect us to everything from animals to automobiles

by Rudra Mehta

 

Nano-satellites will soon connect us to everything from animals to automobiles

January 10, 2021

What is the first thing that comes to your head when you hear the word ‘Satellites’? The Hubble Space Telescope? Galileo? Perhaps even the Moon! What if there was a possibility to imagine satellites on such a small scale that you could fit them in your living room?

Satellites are a quintessential part of our digital lives. Without them, we wouldn’t have satellite television (duh), internet, calling and texting, GPS navigation and much more. These humungous bodies have existed for decades. Their value keeps increasing as they upgrade their tech and efficiency, which is why a new wave of satellite technology is making its way into the aerospace, industrial sector.

Up until now, human-made satellites were mainly used for defence, research and global sectors. An important field here is communication. Whether it be digital entertainment or global connectivity, satellite communication is the way to go. A majority of this was possible due to the most prominent space organisations in the world.

NASA was a huge part of launching most of the satellites we find in orbit today. Space was never seen as an explorable opportunity for two simple reasons; cost and accessibility. This was until the formation of SpaceX. SpaceX was the first-ever private space program, and it wasn’t long until we started seeing a host of other companies jumping on the hype-train, most notably Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Space was no longer out of reach, and SpaceX led the way in the advancement of this business. But while most private companies focussed on tourism as their primary objective, SpaceX had a different approach. It not only wanted to make space accessible but truly make space a viable business sector.

Satellite Industry
The Satellite Industry is on the cusp of a huge revolution.

The Commercialisation of Space

Elon Musk’s company first started out designing rockets that could help launch payloads to space without the help of government space programs. This was followed by the design of reusable rockets that did not get lost after the launch sequence. No other entity in the world had even heard of reusing rockets as the consensus was that it was impossible. But, the Dragon range of rockets designed by SpaceX not only turned out to be reusable but they were even able to land themselves back safely on Earth.

This was a long and arduous process, no doubt, but now that this particular obstacle has been overcome, we can focus on WHAT we can send to space. SpaceX partnered with NASA on multiple occasions to send NASA’s payload to the Internation Space Station as they can deploy the SpaceX rockets at almost half the cost of NASA rockets. And less wastage, of course. But Musk already has some big plans.

One of them is to provide global Wi-Fi connectivity, and he aims to achieve that through, you guessed it, satellites. Dubbed as the Starlink mission, the idea is to launch more than 40,000 satellites over the next decade to enable Wi-Fi in even the most remote Earth locations. This already poses many scientific and environmental issues, but another worrying fact is that the size of each satellite would be almost the size of a school bus! And we can’t have 40,000 school buses floating in outer space now, can we?

cubesat
A model of the CubeSat satellite

The Solution is Already Here!

But fret not, as we already have a solution on the horizon. The answer is CubeSats! You might have heard of something called SmallSats. These are satellites that weigh less than 200 kilos and are the size of your household fridge or less. SmallSats are further broken down into mini-satellites, microsatellites, nanosatellites and so forth.

CubeSats fall under the nanosatellite category. These objects weigh anything between 1 and 10 kilos and are the size of an Xbox Series X console on average. We can launch such devices in the masses as they are tiny and light and do not take many resources to set up. They can perform the same tasks as conventional satellites, just on a smaller scale. Not only that, but CubeSats will also be able to replace the enormous commercial satellites in the long run, as soon as they can match the power and efficiency.

For now, these objects are perfect for personalised applications such as monitoring systems, object tracking, intranet uses, workspaces, and so much more. Some common examples include pet trackers, shipment tracking, office ecosystems and even local cloud storage. And since they aim to reduce the space debris and the “space” occupied (ha-ha, geddit?) by the chunky devices, they will interfere less with space exploration and conservation.

scool-buzz-Penguins-captured-by-Penguin-Watch
Penguins in Antarctica, captured by cameras set up by Penguin Watch that use satellite communications to relay their status. Courtesy: PENGUIN WATCH

Scientists have been using CubeSats for more than a decade, monitoring environmental factors, including animals and climate change, eliminating the need for infrastructure for an area to be accessible. After much research and development, the satellites are now ready for commercial applications. Give it a few years, and you might have your very own satellite!

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