This story is from the 2017 Access FYI: How Young Innovators Are Connecting the World. Explore more from this issue

Space: The New World Wide Web

Satellites are helping connect even the most remote parts of the world.

More than three-fourths of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans, deserts and other outlands that are hard to track. Companies have used all types of tools to manage global traffic in these areas, from data towers and drones to balloons and unused TV channels. Today, one company hopes a network of small satellites will take the charge, providing not only worldwide connectivity but also a better, more accurate picture of our ever-changing planet.

FedEx customer Spire, which has offices in the U.S., Scotland and Singapore, makes small satellites that are about the size of a shoebox. These nanosatellites capture data in remote locations like the deep ocean and undeveloped tracts of land without data infrastructure. With information from Spire’s network, aviation, maritime and shipping companies can track their crafts and cargo anywhere in the world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even awarded its first commercial contract to Spire to submit data to improve weather forecasts.

$1 Million Satellites?

Spire’s satellites, which fly in low earth orbit, cost about $1 million each to make and deploy. This might sound like a lot, but it’s a fraction of the billions spent on telecommunications or government satellites. Spire satellites can also be updated with software, making them easier to upgrade and maintain than bulky, old-fashioned models.

While Spire has been a leader in satellite data services, companies like OneWeb and O3b are entering the marketplace, too. We soon may find a new connected firmament the next time we turn our eyes skyward.