Why SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is launching 64 tiny satellites into orbit

The companies launching satellites aboard the SpaceX rocket hope to revolutionize the Internet of Things.

NASA
  • SpaceX is providing the rocket for the mission, while a Seattle-based company organized the payload.
  • The mission will deploy satellites from various providers, including startups and government agencies.
  • Most of these providers hope to be the first to build a new kind of network to support the Internet of Things.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is set to launch 64 satellites into orbit on Wednesday, the largest number deployed in a single mission from U.S. soil.

The mission—dubbed "Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express"—will deploy satellites from multiple providers, including six startups that seek to revolutionize the Internet of Things by sending tiny, centimeters-long satellites into low Earth orbit.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday appliances and devices, which enables them to send and receive data via the internet. Some technologies that rely on this network include smart meters, agricultural and fishery sensors, and pipeline and environmental monitors, all of which require relatively tiny amounts of bandwidth to operate, compared to, say, an online video game.

Big potential in the IoT market

SpaceX may be supplying the rocket, but the mission was organized by Seattle-based CubeSat company Spaceflight Industries, which believes that lowered barriers of entry will lead to big potential for communications companies supporting the Internet of Things. According to a 2018 McKinsey report, the IoT market is estimated to be worth about $581 billion in information and communications spending by 2020.

"Low earth orbit is not unlike smartphones," Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight, told Wired. "When you really lower the cost of phones—or rocket launches—people come up with a whole bunch of new applications."

Helios Wire, an IoT company with a satellite set to launch on Wednesday, plans to eventually deploy a constellation of 28 satellites that will enable new types of applications, specifically within analytics and blockchain.

"The IoT industry is very much in a growth phase. For Helios, the goal isn't only to connect devices and aggregate data, it's also to improve the applications and services that can be layered atop the network," said CEO Scott Larson. "The ability to allow for not only machine-to-machine communication, but also machine-to-machine transactions using the blockchain, is very intriguing. It is the economy of machines and the service offering will add very real value."

Wednesday's mission is separate from SpaceX's Starlink project, which seeks to provide all corners of the planet with wireless internet beamed from 7,500 satellites in low Earth orbit. In November, the FCC approved the final stage of the Starlink project.

American education: It’s colleges, not college students, that are failing

Who is to blame for the U.S.'s dismal college graduation rate? "Radical" educator Dennis Littky has a hunch.

Percentage of college student dropouts by age at enrollment: 2-year and 4-year institutions

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that underserved communities face with regard to higher education, such as widening social inequality and sky-high tuition.
  • At College Unbound, where I am president, we get to know students individually to understand what motivates them, so they can build a curriculum based on goals they want to achieve.
  • My teaching mantra: Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

LIVE AT 2 PM ET | Lead your team toward collaborative problem solving

What does it mean to "lead without authority"?

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

Keep reading Show less

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why.

The planet that we are searching for is a little bit smaller and closer than we originally thought.

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why. | ...
Videos
  • Years ago, California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin was inspired to embark on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris.
  • This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine.
  • While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. And Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…