Thursday, July 9, 2015

Satellite comms for IoT

One of the challenges of natural disasters is that they often knock out key infrastructure – like cell phone service, land lines, power, etc.

Terran Orbital is developing systems based on “nano satellites” that should be able to help.

One such system would put fuel monitors on emergency backup generators' fuel tanks to track who needs fuel and where in the event of an emergency.

The system could also be used for tracking shipping containers, planes, boats, etc. Or for things like environmental monitoring/tracking – watching oil spills, airborne contaminants, smoke, lava flows, tsunamis, floods, etc.

Existing satellite communications use geostationary satellites parked 20,000 miles up – requiring relatively high power to communicate with them. The nano satellites will fly at only about 400 miles, reducing power requirements, but with lower speed signaling (about 1Kbps.) The idea is to trade off reliability for performance.

The satellites could cost less than $100 each (vs millions of dollars for traditional comms satellites) and deliver service much cheaper than current technology. 

Customers pay a subscription fee to use the ones currently in orbit - US military and undisclosed commercial enterprises, so far.

As low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites get cheaper, expect to see them used in other Internet of Things applications.


  1. Perhaps this is off-topic here (I'm not knowledgeable enough to know that) but could similar nanosatellites be used for global mobile phone connectivity? I've been discouraged by how expensive SATphones are and hoping that someone comes up with a cheaper system, one that would allow you to make calls or access the net anywhere in the world.

  2. Not with these particular satellites - they're very low bandwidth and wouldn't support voice communications.

    I know what you mean though, it's still prohibitively expensive to use satellite phones. I looked into renting one a few years ago for use at Burning Man, but they were just too much.