Photo of Sara Spangelo


Sara Spangelo

Her tiny satellites could bring connectivity to the remotest places on Earth.

Year Honored

Swarm Technologies


Hails From

Sara Spangelo didn’t quite make it as an astronaut. But four years after an unsuccessful tryout with Canada’s space agency, she’s achieved her own space milestone: unveiling the world’s lowest-cost always-available satellite communications network.

Spangelo, who holds a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan, is CEO of Swarm Technologies, which seeks to provide affordable data services for devices anywhere on Earth. Today, nearly 90% of the planet’s surface, including oceans, deserts, and polar regions, lacks internet access. Connecting via satellite has long been cost-prohibitive, because satellite networks typically cost billions of dollars to deploy and maintain.

The key to lowering costs was to bring down size: Swarm’s satellites, roughly the size of a slice of French toast, are the smallest two-way communication devices in orbit today. Because they’re so compact, they can hitch rides on commercial rockets for bargain prices: total launch costs for Swarm’s full constellation of 150 satellites, which the company will finish placing in low Earth orbit by the end of 2021, will run less than $3 million. 

Swarm’s data connection, which uses the VHF radio spectrum, won’t enable seafarers to stream Netflix: its current transfer rate of 1 kilobit per second is similar to 1990s dial-up. Swarm’s niche, rather, is giving customers the ability to transmit small yet highly useful packets of information from the world’s most far-flung places. This enables them to remotely monitor water supplies, detect leaks in pipelines, measure soil contents, track wildlife, or guarantee the temperature of vaccines in cold-chain transport.