Staying Small is the Next Big Thing

There’s an old adage that says, “Good things come in small packages,” and that statement has never been truer when it comes to the modern space industry. For decades, satellites have bucked the ubiquitous trend of technology miniaturization, growing ever larger and more expensive even as our personal cellphones, computers and circuit boards have shrunk. 

Now, though, satellite makers are beginning to realize that staying small is the next big thing. Small spacecraft are becoming just as capable as their 5-ton predecessors, enabling a broad range of new applications for a fraction of the cost.

Virgin Orbit designed LauncherOne to be the most responsive and flexible launch solution for this new sector of the satellite industry, helping young startups get their feet (and satellites) off the ground and enabling space veterans to pursue new missions in new ways.

From remote sensing to communications to asset tracking, here’s just a peek at some of the unique smallsat customers Virgin Orbit has signed in the last month: 

Spire | Data & Analytics 

One of the earliest success stories of the smallsat revolution, Spire earned NOAA’s first ever commercial weather contract in 2017 thanks to its ability to rapidly collect and deliver GPS radio occultation data. Now with nearly 80 satellites in orbit, Spire’s constellation has become a global industry standard for tracking aircraft over remote regions, as well as mapping oceanic trade routes, monitoring illegal fishing, and tracking maritime shipments. Spire is collectively building a new model that will rival any current weather prediction in the world. 

Swarm Technologies | Space-based IOT

Swarm is focused on one singular mission: leveraging the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to close the global digital divide for good. Its minuscule SpaceBEE spacecraft, no bigger than a grilled-cheese sandwich, are the world’s smallest two-way communications satellites. Offering low-cost, low-data rate IoT connectivity, Swarm’s network gives farm owners, car manufacturers, energy companies and others better visibility into their remotely deployed devices.

LunaSonde | Earth & Asteroid Prospecting

All that glitters isn’t gold — but it might be palladium or another rare mineral! And with the help of LunaSonde, a picosatellite company founded by University of Arizona sophomore Jeremiah Pate, mining companies can more easily locate pockets of precious metals and other resources below the Earth’s surface, while also reducing the financial and environmental cost of their exploratory mining ventures. 

Spaceflight | Launch & Mission Management Services

We could go on and on, but ultimately what these new satellites need are reliable and affordable launch services — which is where Spaceflight comes in. Offering end-to-end mission management, Spaceflight identifies rideshare opportunities and helps their customers plan, license, integrate and transport their spacecraft. Embracing a new model for accessing space, Spaceflight lowers the barrier to entry for commercial, non-profit and government organizations, helping them achieve their goals on-time and on-budget.

And this is just the beginning. Low cost access to launch, enabled by systems like LauncherOne, is the key to opening the door to applications we haven’t even yet considered. That’s really our number one goal: maximizing humankind’s utilization of space for the good of our planet and everyone on it.