SpaceX, a company known for making big splashy announcements — thanks to its media & attention savvy founder — very quietly snapped up a small startup called Swarm Technologies. In case you were wondering, “why?” SpaceX made the acquisition, then let me help you out: it is all about devices — more accurately put, the connected devices that need some connectivity. Some of us who love nerdy things, this category: Internet of Things.

The connected devices, especially in the industrial arena, have been a slow starter, mostly because the incumbents are slow to change, hate to spend money, and frankly, have not quite understood the importance of data. I saw that when “the cloud” was still young. SpaceX is betting that with bigger brand recognition and deeper pockets, they will turn Swarm’s business into a big moneymaker.

Swarm makes tiny satellites, which are even smaller than microsats. Think about the size of a stack of iPad Minis. Their satellites operate in VHF, different from Starlink. Swarm’s idea was to deploy up to 150 of these satellites and help connect devices from boring old industries such as agriculture, logistics, and energy. If they can get data from that connectivity, they can get smarter about their operations.

Swarm’s Satellites

The idea helped Swarm get about $35 million in venture funding. It also helped that the founders had some solid tech-chops. The company was the brainchild of Dr. Sara Spangelo & Dr. Ben Longmier: Spangelo worked on small satellites and autonomous aircraft at the University of Michigan and was a lead systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and Google X. Longmier sold his company to Apple. And that is why their technology was interesting enough for SpaceX to snap up the company.

Picosats are inexpensive to make and deploy, so Swarm can afford to sell its data service — it starts at $5 a month quite cheaply. To be clear, this is no Starlink network. You get a mere 750 data packets per device per month, and that’s up to 192 Bytes per packet. Of course, you need Swarm’s special modules and other gear, but thankfully they are cheaper than any other Satellite gear.

In case you were wondering — that’s not a lot of data (or revenue,) but sensor reading data demands go up fast, especially when sensors start to spread everywhere. And as someone who thinks that connected sensors are an inevitability, this seems that it could eventually become a big opportunity for a large company like SpaceX. After all, there are (and soon will be more) machines than people. (Hey, I already said, I am in the connected everything camp.)

And if that big opportunity doesn’t work out — aka the worst-case scenario, SpaceX, can use Swarm technology to monitor their own sprawling network around the globe. Plus, they got two kick-ass brains to work at the company. It’s not as if they broke the bank for Swarm.

August 10, 2021. San Francisco

Ever wondered why Elon Musk is so high on Starlink, the low orbit internet access centric satellite constellation his company, Space X is building? It is because despite all the talk about Mars colonies, for now, communications is what will pay the bills and keep SpaceX growing. And it could be a lot more disruptive by lowering the cost of satellite communications and by being more inclusive. Imagine what if it cost $100,000 to build and launch a satellite — and you can imagine the rest. Read this astute analysis of the Starlink phenomenon by Casey Handmer.  (Also: Who is Casey?)

Space is running out of space ;-)

Humans have put 8,378 objects put into space since the first Sputnik in 1957 and at the beginning of 2019 4,987 satellites were still up there, and 1957 are operational. From 1964to 2012 roughly 131 satellites were launched every year. In 2017 453 satellites were launched in space. In 2018, the number fell to 382. But 5200 are planned over the next four years and another 9,300 thereafter. That’s 15,000 satellites. First, wow…. how far have we come where the cost of launching a bird is so cheap now. Secondly, the unintended consequences of these many birds are going to be pretty substabtial. No one should be surprised if some complications develop overhead and cause problems down on the planet.

Read article on Pots & Pans

Facts & Fiction of Space Internet Claims

Elon Musk wants to rebuild the Internet in space. He wants the space network to carry half the long-distance Internet traffic. How much is that? If the current trends of doubling of traffic every two years, then we should expect that the total Internet bandwidth in 2020 will double from 2018 to 2 petabits.

With OneWeb, Telesat and SpaceX’s combined infrastructure, the space network wouldn’t be close to it, though with its mega constellation, Starlink, SpaceX could theoretically have a capacity of 24 Tbps. That is very impressive — I have tracked satellite broadband for a long time, and nothing comes even close.  However, it is not so impressive if you consider a single pair on a modern submarine cable carries more traffic than that.

The myth I’m exploring isn’t if SpaceX could carry MAREA’s traffic—it’s if they could carry half of used internet bandwidth in 2020.  These new satellite constellations are going to be very important to reach underserved areas and provide them with lower latency. But the idea that they could take on half of long distance traffic isn’t yet feasible. Luckily for Elon, he has another great quote: “I say something then it usually happens. Maybe not on schedule, but it usually happens.”

Great analysis by Alan Mauldin, an old friend of ours from the day of the broadband blog.

Read article on Teelgeography