The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that a Silicon Valley-based start-up called Swarm Technologies launched four minuscule satellites into space without the agency’s permission.
Swarm Technologies, founded by former Google and NASA JPL engineer, Sara Spangelo, disregarded the FCC’s interdiction and launched SpaceBees 1,2,3 and 4. The satellites would reportedly help the company test out a space-based concept for an “Internet of Things” (IoT) communication network.
Near the end of last year, Swarm Technologies applied for a permit from the FCC to launch its prototypes into space with the government agency declining the request due to security reasons.
FCC claimed that the satellites were too small to be tracked, making them a threat to other objects and satellites in space.
The agency currently does not have the means to monitor the minuscule SpaceBees, which measure about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in all three dimensions.
“If they’re difficult to track… and you want to know in the future: ‘Is it going to hit my satellite?’—the answer might be erroneous because we don’t have a good orbit for them,” said Brian Weeden, a space expert at the Secure World Foundation.
Swarm claims that their new technology would lay the groundwork for a worldwide communication network, one which would be less expensive for transportation network and agricultural technologies to employ.
The company’s satellites would reportedly use solar-powered gateways to connect existing IoT devices via Bluetooth or Wi-fi and transfer data to Internet-connected stations on Earth.
While Swarm had the SpaceBees satellites outfitted with GPS responders and covered them with radar-reflecting material for easy tracking, the FCC denied the permit application.
According to aerospace professor, Marcus Holzinger, the greatest danger posed by the tiny satellites is not stemmed from their mass but rather their velocity. He said that the size of the satellite would enable such a huge energy transfer to occur when orbiting Earth, that a collision with another satellite would be “catastrophic”.
Swarm Technologies has yet to provide an official comment on their unauthorized launch.
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