SparkFun's Latest SparkX Board Offers a Swarm M138 Modem for Easy Satellite Communication

Designed for low-bandwidth projects like remote sensor networks, this satellite transceiver costs as little as $60 a year in air-time.

SparkFun is continuing its expansion into space with the launch of another board designed to communicate with satellites — this time offering easy connectivity to a Swarm M138 satellite modem.

"With a clear view of the sky, the Satellite Transceiver Breakout — Swarm M138 allows you to send and receive short messages," the company writes of its latest board launch. "It works anywhere in the world, including the polar regions, far beyond the reach of Wi-Fi and Cellular networks. It is perfect for a variety of low-bandwidth use cases: From connecting people and tracking vehicles, ships, or packages to relaying sensor data for agriculture, energy, and industrial IoT applications."

Built around a Swarm M138 mini-PCI Express satellite modem, the compact breakout board provides a pair of U.FL connectors for bundled antennas: The first antenna is a Very High Frequency (VHF) mode and handles the two-way communications; the second is designed for receiving Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals, including GPS, for geolocation and tracking purposes.

The board's primary method of communication is via USB Type-C, which also provides power, using NMEA-style commands; there's also a full set of input/output pins broken out, should that prove easier for integration into a given project, and the company has released a Python-based graphical user interface application designed to get users up and running as quickly as possible.

Communicating via satellite isn't free, however: The Swarm modem requires a data plan at $60 a year, which includes 750 data packets of up to 192 bytes per month. Those who require more can stack up to four data plans on a single modem, for up to 3,000 packets per month — and at a cost, SparkFun claims, considerably lower than rival satellite communication networks.

The board is now available on the SparkFun store at $149.95, alongside a hookup guide on the company's learning portal. As a SparkX design, however, it's very much limited to current stock; thus far, the company has not confirmed any plans to bring the board on as a regularly-stocked design in its trademark red.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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