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Sep 02, 2015

Could a cubesat network have saved Cecil the lion?

In June of 2015, Zimbabwe’s favourite lion, Cecil, was lured out of a protected conservation park into neighboring private property. There, it is alleged that Walter Palmer, the American dentist hunted and killed the 13-year-old black-maned lion. It’s an unfortunate death and like many endangered species capable of being tracked a nanosatellite constellation, it could have been prevented. 

GPS technology is already used to track animals in some limited cases. Cecil was wearing a radio collar as he was being tracked as part of an Oxford University study. While the radio collar alone was not enough, it is a step up from the non-existent tracking that most endangered species are afforded. The radio tracking ‘safety net’ that Cecil is expensive and thus not practical to track other threatened or endangered species.In the future, a large network of cubesats can make such a ‘safety net’ possible by driving down the cost of tracking endangered animals and increasing visibility across all parts of the planet. 

In the past, transmitting to satellites circumnavigating Earth has been hard to manage. Traditional satellites are large, expensive, and tend to deliver data a few times per day in the best of scenarios. That means information about animals being tracked may only be available for limited amounts of time during the day, and animals are ‘off the grid’ for much of their lives. In Cecil’s case, his transmitter sent data to a satellite once per hour. That “window of opportunity” did not leave enough time for authorities to respond when he was pushed out of the reserve.

In the last century the combination of habitat loss, commercial fishing, hunting and poaching have created the threat of extinction to many species. Although satellite tracking is not new, there has been little innovation in high fidelity data and animal tracking. Hence today most of these threatened species are not monitored. Now imagine if Cecil the lion had been tracked in real time, 24 hours a day? Could a large cubesat network have set off alarm bells immediately when Cecil ventured away from the park? Imagine if that degree of data was available, could Cecil’s untimely demise have been prevented? 

Spire will have the world’s first constellation of weather satellites by the end of 2015. As Spire reshapes the landscape of big data weather forecasting and trade security, we’re excited to see how our technology can further contribute and help to preserve the planet for future generations.

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