Like mobile phones, satellites can be made to be smaller and cheaper and more efficient. This has made entry into the satellite market easier. In the past, satellites have mostly been manufactured in the 1,000 kilogram range and have cost billions of dollars to produce. Each kilo that you an shave off represents hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch into orbit, such that now, we’re seeing nano satellite start-ups, like Spire financed by Kickstarter, to launch sensors that are softball-sized and smaller. Nano satellites are defined as weighing 1-10 kg; pico satellites weigh .01-1 kg and femto satellites weigh less than .01 satellites.
Generally, they’re released as a group (aka “swarm”) to form a network, in order to provide a more 3D-like image of a location. Generally, they’re also programmed fly in a Sun-synchronous orbit, such that the satellites pass over a point over the Earth’s surface at the same local solar time, which they can do 12 times per day, allowing clients to receive satellite images “in real time.” This is very useful for imaging, spy, warfare and weather applications. These tiny CubeSats are currently poised to replace the 30-year-old weather satellites, which have started to grow long in the tooth.