The White House Is Launching a Small Satellite Revolution

The White House has big plans for small satellites. A new project called “Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution” kicked off yesterday, aimed to help strengthen the budding commercial space industry by pushing for NASA to invest $30 million in small satellites to allow smaller companies and groups to engage in the space industry like never before.

Despite their diminutive size, smallsats are capable of big things. The orbiting labs come in a variety of sizes, weighing anywhere from a few ounces to several hundred pounds, and can perform a myriad of services — like providing internet to remote parts of the world and monitoring environmental changes. They are also changing the way we access space. Smallsats come with a smaller price tag, of course — allowing more researchers and nations to access space.

To capitalize on the growing smallsat industry, NASA is specifically allocating $5 million to help develop more robust technologies, and another $25 million to purchase private data (including detailed images of the planet) that could help them better study the Earth.

Within its Ames Research Center, NASA will also establish a special program — called the Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute — to help both NASA and private industry determine the best way to manufacture these smallsats, and the best way to incorporate them into future NASA missions.

Close-up of Planet Lab's Dove satellite. 


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has also awarded a $20 million contract to Planet — a startup that’s working to build a fleet of smallsats that will operate in low earth orbit, taking continuous pictures of the Earth. This will ultimately provide the NGA with imagery of at least 85 percent of the Earth’s landmass every 15 days that will help scientists monitor environmental changes.

These are just a few of the programs that aim to further the small satellite revolution, which will ultimately advance our knowledge and understanding of not only the Earth, but the cosmos as well. The new initiative also reinforces Obama’s ideas for using government resources to help foster the private space industry.

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