Four nanosatellites developed under the European Space Agency (ESA) Pioneer program have been launched into space today. Built in Glasgow by Spire Global UK, these satellites are about the size of a shoebox and are among the smartest satellites ever built in the United Kingdom. Although their primary purpose is to monitor shipping movements, "they can do almost everything a conventional satellite does," wrote the UK Space Agency.
Out of the four nanosatellites, two have a supercomputer onboard that will use machine-learning algorithms to predict the locations of ships and subsequently track arrival time at ports. This will help port authorities manage docks effectively. The other two will forge inter-satellite relays that will be used to send data to one another and down to ground stations. This will cut the time between data collection and its delivery. Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:
"Backed by £10 million of UK government funding, these extraordinary nanosatellites will not only help predict global trade and make businesses more cost effective, but will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of satellite development."
The idea of nanosatellites has been around for a while. However, in recent years, due to improvements in optics and remote sensing, the market for such satellites has grown considerably. Among other advantages, nanosatellites allow us to observe the Earth’s environment intricately and regularly. The UK government believes that the launch of these four nanosatellites will create new opportunities in the satellite communications market. In addition, the £10 million backing this project will help bolster the country's role as a leader in space innovation.