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These mind-blowing tiny satellites are like a 'smartwatch' for our planet — here's what they're tracking from space

Thousands of "smallsats" are in orbit already.

Quub tiny satellites

Photo Credit: iStock

A plan to monitor our planet's health using hundreds of small satellites is emerging in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based startup Quub plans to send satellites that are shorter than soda bottles into outer space to keep an eye on our planet's lakes, rivers, and other natural resources. The goal is for the lightweight watchers to also provide weather alerts with data that will be updated every quarter of an hour. 

"If a forest fire were to start in, say, the middle of California, we would spot it before anybody else does because the anomaly system would go off," CEO Joe Latrell told Fast Company. 

Latrell likens the concept to a "smartwatch" for the planet that could one day monitor air quality, coastline erosion, deforestation, and weather trends related to our overheating planet.

The company has one unit, called a "smallsat," already in orbit, Fast Company reports. The plan is to have 400 of them, forming a group of data collectors, circling the planet by 2025. 

Latrell said his units are akin to space "LEGOs," as they can link together, creating clusters. The materials they are made of will burn up when re-entering the atmosphere, so no debris will hit the ground, according to Fast Company.

But Quub is not alone up there in space. Big companies like Starlink, owned by Elon Musk, are also sending up satellites. And Planet Labs, a project led by the University of Michigan, has units that are watching Indian wheat fields to see how fertilizer is working.

"A tool like satellite data that is scalable and low cost … can be applied across regions to map and increase yields of crops at large scale," Meha Jain, assistant professor at Michigan, said in a statement about the technology

Thousands of smallsats are in orbit already, many of them part of Starlink's constellation, which provides internet service to rural areas around the world. The line of satellites can sometimes be spotted in the night sky, depending on your location. Fast Company reports that in the coming years, there could be tens of thousands of them in orbit as more companies launch. 

Quub has two projects under contract with the Air Force. Fast Company said that the work order is for "Earth observation" and to explore "optical communications." The business has grown from one to 20 employees.

Look for the emerging Pennsylvania tech group to be sending more smallsats skyward soon. They could one day provide the early warning — for a forest fire or other weather event — that saves lives. 

"We made it our mission to take the planet's vital signs and put this data in your hands," the company said in a video on its website.

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