I recently took on a role as an advisor to Spire Global, a big data company powered by small satellites, also called SmallSats or CubeSats. Spire is part of a growing wave of companies that provide high-frequency data as an infrastructure to inform and improve traditional industry. For Spire, they are a remote sensing company powered from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), focused not on imagery and not on land, but on the other senses over the 75 percent of the planet that is covered by water. Over 1.5 billion metric tons of goods are sent by container ship across the world's oceans each year, accounting for the majority of global trade by volume and value. Yet when most ships leave coastal waters, they are tracked infrequently at best, leading to lost goods, piracy, and other inefficiencies.
Ships have automatic identification systems (AIS) that allow for periodic tracking, but poor satellite coverage means maritime domain awareness (MDA) is low. Spire seeks to improve maritime domain awareness by providing much higher-frequency coverage of ships so that companies may track their assets on every ocean, in every ship, every hour. Shipping giants like Copenhagen-based Maersk own over 1.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) inside which goods move across the earth, creaking their way over grey waves on the high seas. It's Lean Startup applied to global trade.
Spire is launching small sats to power big data that will help improve maritime domain awareness for global shipping and commodities. When rocket scientists launch satellites to fight pirates from space, Silicon Valley is doing something right.