When you stargaze at a clear night sky, do you ever notice any satellites? Satellites will appear like a star slowly moving across the sky and are visible to the naked eye. In the next year, spotting them may not be difficult, as hundreds of new nanosatellites will be launched by over a dozen startups. These satellites are not exactly new, but they have become exceedingly popular because of their promising capabilities to connect the world.

Nanosatellites track plastic pollution

Satellite and cellular technologies were used to track a special bottle, called a “bottle tag”, that started in Bangladesh and traveled 2845 km (1767.8 miles, or more than the distance from Miami, Fla., to Maine) in 94 days. According to the research group, the use of this technology demonstrates its ability to “significantly increase understanding of the location of accumulation areas and the timing of large inputs of plastic pollution into the aquatic system.”

Further use of “bottle tags” have the potential to educate communities about plastic use and plastic’s harm on aquatic environments in hopes to alter social behavior.

Internet of animals

Scientists have also attached small tags to animals that bounce messages off satellite networks to relay updates on the animals’ locations and environment. In London, researchers use cameras to remotely track the health of Adélie penguins in Antarctica. These cameras could transmit their own status — damaged, battery life, lens covered in ice, etc. — to their owners via satellites.

Smart Parks is another organization that uses satellite technology to monitor animal movement. Specifically, they try to limit poaching of elephants and rhinos by leading them away from dangerous areas, and an elephant collar is being developed that has a battery life of ten years and connects to satellites where internet is not available.

This idea of creating an “internet of animals” to connect animals to humans will be beneficial for future research and necessary for the safeguard of species.

Nanosatellites for everyone 

Nanosatellites are a promising new technology in the Internet of Things (IoT), and using them for tracing pollution and animals does not even touch the surface of their capabilities. Unlike large and expensive satellites produced by NASA and SpaceX, nanosatellites are cheaper, smaller, more technologically advanced, and have diminishing launch costs.

Future-thinking companies like Swarm Technologies may be the first to deliver commercially available nanosatellite constellations that allow customers to individually use satellites at leisure. They expect to have 150 satellites in space before 2022, which allows an infamous world-wide connection. These ham sandwich-sized nanosatellites — their size allowing them to be efficiently low cost — make it imaginable to track Amazon packages or anything else you desire.

Swarm also prioritizes environmental conservation by using satellite technology in energy, ground transportation, maritime, and agriculture. Their goal is to stay connected to your devices across every square mile of the Earth. Whether it be pipelines and wind farms, fleet telematics systems, buoys, cargo ships, or soil monitoring and animal tracking, Swarm ensures data transfer and device connection everywhere, for everything.

Starlink, a development from SpaceX, is also driven to create technology on an individual level. Since 2015, Starlink has worked to use satellites to deliver broadband Internet access to locations where Internet is expensive, unavailable, or inefficient. Consider it like satellite radio, where no mountains, trees, or remote locations could prevent deliverance of a signal. Starlink’s plans to expand to nearly global coverage in 2021 is impressive and advocates for people domestically and internationally.

Conclusion

If throwing a bottle down a river in Bangladesh led to impressive developments at Swarm Technologies and Starlink, imagine how much further we can go. Nanosatellite constellations depict a future that showcases innovation as proximity and the Internet of Things as something attainable for and personal to an individual. Connecting people to themselves and the things in their life will continue to unite the world in an easier and potentially sustainable way.