Spire: Using the power of pulses

June 30, 2015
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Spire is a satellite powered data company.

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When Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, its rhythmic beeping could be heard by anyone with an amateur radio. Earthbound engineers tracked its progress through orbit by triangulating the sound of the pulse from several locations. Although this technology was designed to enable people on the ground to track an object in space, it quickly became apparent that an inverted system could be used to track locations on Earth from satellites in space. By 1960, the US Navy built and launched a system called TRANSIT to locate submarines and other assets through the use of signals from six satellites. Sputnik’s beeping has since evolved into the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, the technology that enables mapping on our mobile devices. 

New uses are still being found for the pulses of satellites. NASA and the Taiwanese space agency, using a technology called GPS radio occultation (GPS-RO), have proven that the pulses emitted by GPS satellites that miss hitting the land or sea can still be valuable.  These pulses pass through the Earth’s atmosphere and are bent by the conditions at that moment in time.  The change to the signal can be analyzed to create valuable observations about the temperature, pressure, and humidity near the Earth’s surface. 

This innovative use of GPS is now being commercialized by Spire, BVP’s latest Spacetech investment. Spire is deploying GPS-RO on its constellation of “Lemur” nanosatellites to gather a new dataset for weather prediction that’s critical for agriculture, logistics, transportation safety, disaster relief, and climate study. 

Co-founder/CEO Peter Platzer has a much broader vision for his band of flying Lemurs, which promise to comprise the largest constellation ever made within the coming two years. Every Lemur carries a host a variety of radio frequency receivers so that Spire can serve as a flexible and scalable system for detecting radio pulses emitted from Earth. For example, marine-use A.I.S. sensors on the Lemurs will track vessel activity as valuable cargo crosses oceans. 

We are excited to back Spire as they continue to leverage the power of pulses.