A Salt Lake City startup is allowing K-12 students to conduct their own experiments in space by offering remote control access to satellites in orbit.
Ardusat says that several dozen schools have already signed up to take advantage of its technology and curriculum, including Goletta Valley Jr. High School, Huntington Beach High and Woodlands High School, all in California. They have additional paying customers in New York, Brazil, China, Guatemala and India.
The hope is that providing hands-on experience with devices zipping through low-Earth orbit will inspire more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM subjects on which so much of the modern economy depends.
“The broad commercialization of space is opening up unprecedented opportunities to engage in space education and explore career options in STEM fields,” Ardusat President Sunny Washington, who previously worked in online education at Certiport and Instructure, said in a statement. “In previous generations, kids grew up idolizing astronauts who were the select few to exceed Earth’s boundaries. We want to give future generations direct access to the cosmos so they can see science-based education from a whole new perspective.”
Ardusat is essentially a spinoff of Spire, a San Francisco company developing the tiny satellites in question. The main commercial use for the company’s “cubesats,” which are four inches by four inches by 12 inches and packed with cameras and sensors, is tracking assets like planes and ships over water.
“Our technology lends itself in a unique and powerful way to listen to data from the other three quarters of the planet,” said Peter Platzer, chief executive officer of Spire, in an interview.
Additional applications include monitoring trade, spotting illegal fishing and piracy, and aiding search and rescue operations. Platzer said Spire has signed letters of intent with a number of potential customers.
Spire raised $25 million in late July through a Series A round led by RRE Ventures and, in turn, has provided seed funding to Ardusat.
Spire has deployed four of its relatively inexpensive satellites to date, hitching aboard various third-party rocket operations. The company plans to launch 20 to 25 more over roughly the next year and hopes to reach 50 orbiting satellites soon after. They can each move independently, but operate together as a network, collecting and sharing data at more than 300 miles above the planet.
The primary and secondary school experiments can include things like measuring the Earth’s magnetic fields or monitoring air pollution levels, Platzer said.
Any school will be able to take advantage of the basic curriculum and tools for free, but paying customers will be allowed to send customized experiments into space aboard satellites set for future launches.