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SpaceX and Starlink Branch Out into Tiny Internet Pico Satellites

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 (8:46 am) - Score 1,848
SPACEBEE Pico Satellites from Swarm Technologies

SpaceX appears set to complement their Starlink broadband service by acquiring Swarm Technologies, which has built a global network of tiny satellites (i.e. pico satellites built to the 0.25U CubeSat form factor) that will enable it to serve the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity space (agricultural sensors, buoys at sea, smart energy meters etc.).

Unlike Starlink’s somewhat larger and heavier (260Kg) Low Earth Orbit (LEO) platforms – used for consumer satellite broadband connectivity – the tiny pico satellites from Swarm (SPACEBEEs) are only about the size of a small grilled cheese sandwich (11 x 11 x 2.8cm) and weigh just 400 grams each – the smallest commercially operation satellite constellation in space. This makes them very cheap to launch, build and run.

NOTE: The SPACEBEEs orbit at a LEO altitude of c.500km, ensuring fast latency.

Swarm plans to deploy a total 150 commercial two-way SPACEBEE internet communication satellites by the end of 2021, and they’ve already got 120 in orbit around the Earth (service went live in February 2021). Customers of the service typically pay $5 per month for a data plan on an annual contract, which provides just 750 data packets per device per month, up to 192 Bytes per packet. Not much, but fine for basic IoT sensor recordings.

On top of that, those with £360 ($499) to spend can grab a small solar and battery powered terminal (Swarm Eval Kit) to access this network or, alternatively, there’s a small PCB (Swarm Tile) for £86 ($119) that can be built into other IoT devices. Both have GPS built-in, alongside the data connectivity. All of this is helping to make satellite based IoT connectivity much more affordable.

At present, it’s not clear how SpaceX plans to integrate all of this into their future vision, although one obvious benefit to them will be the acquisition of Swarm’s intellectual property, spectrum licences and expertise. In theory, this could help feed back into future developments of their Starlink service too, but it could equally just enable them to build more into the IoT connectivity space.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. NE555 says:

    Mac Minis in spaaaaaace!

    I wonder how they do attitude control (or if they even need to)

  2. NeilM says:

    I have to be honest, I was confused by the purchase, I was imagining that they were going to be going with bigger satellites, which one of their contracts is for. Maybe it’s just a smash and grab for a specific piece of technology stack.

    Given what I imagine spacex spend on cranes and hoists hire down in Boca Chica, this will barely tickle their fancy.

  3. greg says:

    Just can’t help thinking about those space movies, where a Shuttle or space station gets peppered by micro meteorites….

    “DAM IT HOUSTON, We just lost the ISS AND we can no longer monitor the crop growth in middle of the outback….”

  4. Gary says:

    Yay, more expensive space junk.

    1. Owen says:

      It’s not junk it’s technology. Allowing us to move forward as a species and people like you are what’s holding us back.

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