With all of the fuss about the tiny high altitude hobby balloons, you might not know there are also a few low-earth orbit small satellites up there! Yes, these tiny 125 cubic centimeter packages are circling the globe and sending data to ground stations around the world. The map above is a snapshot showing the location of some of these orbiters (blue satellites) and the location of active ground stations (green antennas) that receive them. Each ground station uploads data through the internet to a central site which collects the reports and shows them on the map.

There are a lot of useful scientific experiments although the original intent was to create a “poor man’s SpaceX internet.” This hasn’t happened yet, but this has not been around all that long for a complete system to take shape.

These devices use low power spread spectrum, or LoRa communication modes to achieve downlinks that work well with small inexpensive ground stations. Indeed, a complete ground station costs under $40 if you have to start from nothing. Which is rather amazing given what you’d have needed just a decade ago.

Constructing and getting a picosatellite into orbit is a bit more expensive compared to the cost of launching a high-altitude balloon of the sort ham radio operators do. Thus these are frequently the domain of college/university groups and other space research outfits. The first one launched using this model was in 2021. This was FossaSat-1- the next advancement in picosatellite technology, sized at only 5x5x5cm and weighing only 250g. It is inactive as of March 2023.