In the not so distant future, the army of satellites orbiting the Earth may quadruple in number. Many of these satellites won't come from NASA or other big government entities, but from small and dedicated groups of tech geeks in Silicon Valley. Inspired by the technological capacity of your average smart phone, these wizards have constructed miniature satellites known as nanosats, which can cheaply and reliably monitor the Earth's surface. The documentary short Space Invaders welcomes the viewer into their world, and explores the gigantic implications of their tiny inventions.
The filmmakers plant their cameras at a start-up company called Planet. Based in the heart of San Francisco, this youthful collaboration stands at the forefront of modern satellite technology. Planet currently operates 156 satellites, and they expect that fleet to grow exponentially in the coming years.
They don't produce massive satellites that glide the stars like skyscrapers. Their satellites are the size of a small suitcase, and what they lack in mass they more than make up for in price and portability. They hitch a ride on a launching rocket, and deploy once they've exited the orbit. Their telescopic cameras don't possess the resolution of their larger counterparts, yet they can capture a reasonably clear portrait of structures on the planet's surface. Their major benefit, however, involves the reach and frequency of their transmissions. Nanosats can provide images of any specific region of the planet on a daily basis.
These strengths have made Planet appealing to scientists and social organizations who wish to track the evolution of climate change, deforestation or other environmental concerns. They've also stoked the interest of national security and law enforcement agencies. Potential privacy violations are not explicitly explored in the film, but viewers are likely to fill in this subtext as they witness this technology in action.
What started as a series of experiments in a Southern California garage could very well shape the future of space satellite technology. Aerospace corporations are starting to take notice, and are eager to capitalize on the ingenuity of these promising innovations. Space Invaders gives viewers a front row seat on the ground floor of this revolution.