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Moore's Law Strikes the Satellite Industry

March 8, 2022

At SafeGraph, we’re big fans of satellite companies because at their core, they’re data companies. We recently spoke with Peter Plazter, CEO of Spire, on “World of DaaS” podcast about the satellite industry and to dive into what most people don’t understand about satellites. Spire has launched and operates the world’s largest multipurpose satellite constellation that uses radio frequency to collect data.

Moore’s Law Strikes Again! Satellite Performance/Cost Grows Exponentially

Over the past few decades, the cost per kilogram for satellites has been steadily decreasing while performance per kilogram has been exponentially increasing – growing 10x every 5 years!

Not All Satellites Are Created Equal

There are similar devices in the transportation industry that have windows and passengers and seats and captains and engines and steering wheels and we end up calling them planes, ships and trucks. And everyone understands the difference between a plane, a ship and a truck right? 

Unfortunately, we still think of different types of satellites as… satellites. They are just as different from each other as a plane, a truck and a ship.

So let’s dive into the different types of satellites: 

Listening satellites 

Small satellites in lower orbit working off radio frequency signals (Spire) – these satellites are “software-defined” meaning you can change what data they collect even after launch.

Looking satellites

Large satellites with cameras that collect imagery (Planet Labs) – these satellites are not “software-defined” with limitations on changing which type of data they collect post-launch.

Talking satellites: 

Telecommunication satellites that provide internet and TV services - these are what most people think of when they hear the word satellite. 

Radio Frequency Data Enables Data Processing Onboard the Satellite

Spire satellites focus on radio frequency data and have an advantage in that they can work day and night, rain or shine. Using edge computing, data is processed locally in order to replace overhead with lower latency of the data. This is both faster and more energy efficient than processing data on the ground. 

The really cool part? Spire satellites disintegrate after 2-3 years, faster than a plastic bag from your grocery store, preventing any unwanted space debris. 

Repurposing Existing Technology for New Uses

Marine vessels and airplanes have identification technology onboard for safety reasons. Automatic Identification System (AIS) for marine vessels were developed for safety reasons and meant to be picked up by other vessels in their vicinity. 

Spire developed a technology that searches and listens to AIS technology aboard ships all the way from space. The information they collect is very rich and contains over 20 different data points, including location, speed, origin and how deep it sits in the water. 

Radio Frequencies Captured From Satellites Are Used to Predict the Weather

Weather prediction is generally driven by data from space. 95% of the world’s population lives on less than 10% of the world’s land surface and over half of the world’s population lives on 1% of land. Ground sensors are great for areas that are inhabited but for the majority of Earth’s surface area which is remote, we need to rely on space technology.  

Listen to the full episode here

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