A communications satellite is an artificial satellite that relays and amplifies radio telecommunication signals via a transponder; it creates a communication channel between a source transmitter and a receiver at different locations on Earth’s. Communications satellites are used for television, telephone, radio, internet, and military applications. As of 1 January 2021, there are 2,224 communications satellites in Earth orbit. Most communications satellites are in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above the equator, so that the satellite appears stationary at the same point in the sky; therefore the satellite dish antennas of ground stations can be aimed permanently at that spot and do not have to move to track the satellite.
The high frequency radio waves used for telecommunications links travel by line of sight and so are obstructed by the curve of the Earth. The purpose of communications satellites is to relay the signal around the curve of the Earth allowing communication between widely separated geographical points. Communications satellites use a wide range of radio and microwave frequencies. To avoid signal interference, international organizations have regulations for which frequency ranges or “bands” certain organizations are allowed to use. This allocation of bands minimizes the risk of signal interference.
In October 1945, Arthur C. Clarke published an article titled “Extraterrestrial Relays” in the British magazine Wireless World.The article described the fundamentals behind the deployment of artificial satellites in geostationary orbits for the purpose of relaying radio signals. Because of this, Arthur C. Clarke is often quoted as being the inventor of the concept of the communications satellite, and the term ‘Clarke Belt’ is employed as a description of the orbit.
The first artificial Earth satellite was Sputnik 1 which was put into orbit by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. It was developed by Mikhail Tikhonravov and Sergey Korolev, building on work by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.Sputnik 1 was equipped with an on-board radio-transmitter that worked on two frequencies of 20.005 and 40.002 MHz, or 7 and 15 meters wavelength. The satellite was not placed in orbit for the purpose of sending data from one point on earth to another; the radio transmitter was meant to study the properties of radio wave distribution throughout the ionosphere. The launch of Sputnik 1 was a major step in the exploration of space and rocket development, and marks the beginning of the Space Age.
Satellite orbits :
Communications satellites usually have one of three primary types of orbit, while other orbital classifications are used to further specify orbital details. MEO and LEO are non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).
Geostationary satellites have a geostationary orbit (GEO), which is 22,236 miles (35,785 km) from Earth’s surface. This orbit has the special characteristic that the apparent position of the satellite in the sky when viewed by a ground observer does not change, the satellite appears to “stand still” in the sky. This is because the satellite’s orbital period is the same as the rotation rate of the Earth. The advantage of this orbit is that ground antennas do not have to track the satellite across the sky, they can be fixed to point at the location in the sky the satellite appears.
Medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites are closer to Earth. Orbital altitudes range from 2,000 to 36,000 kilometres (1,200 to 22,400 mi) above Earth.
The region below medium orbits is referred to as low Earth orbit (LEO), and is about 160 to 2,000 kilometres (99 to 1,243 mi) above Earth.
As satellites in MEO and LEO orbit the Earth faster, they do not remain visible in the sky to a fixed point on Earth continually like a geostationary satellite, but appear to a ground observer to cross the sky and “set” when they go behind the Earth beyond the visible horizon. Therefore, to provide continuous communications capability with these lower orbits requires a larger number of satellites, so that one of these satellites will always be visible in the sky for transmission of communication signals. However, due to their relatively small distance to the Earth their signals are stronger.
Low Earth orbit (LEO)
A low Earth orbit (LEO) typically is a circular orbit about 160 to 2,000 kilometres (99 to 1,243 mi) above the earth’s surface and, correspondingly, a period (time to revolve around the earth) of about 90 minutes.
Because of their low altitude, these satellites are only visible from within a radius of roughly 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from the sub-satellite point. In addition, satellites in low earth orbit change their position relative to the ground position quickly. So even for local applications, many satellites are needed if the mission requires uninterrupted connectivity.
Low-Earth-orbiting satellites are less expensive to launch into orbit than geostationary satellites and, due to proximity to the ground, do not require as high signal strength (signal strength falls off as the square of the distance from the source, so the effect is considerable). Thus there is a trade off between the number of satellites and their cost.
In addition, there are important differences in the onboard and ground equipment needed to support the two types of missions.
A group of satellites working in concert is known as a satellite constellation. Two such constellations, intended to provide satellite phone services, primarily to remote areas, are the Iridium and Globalstar systems. The Iridium system has 66 satellites.
It is also possible to offer discontinuous coverage using a low-Earth-orbit satellite capable of storing data received while passing over one part of Earth and transmitting it later while passing over another part. This will be the case with the CASCADE system of Canada’s CASSIOPE communications satellite. Another system using this store and forward method is Orbcomm.
Medium Earth orbit (MEO):
A medium Earth orbit is a satellite in orbit somewhere between 2,000 and 35,786 kilometres (1,243 and 22,236 mi) above the earth’s surface. MEO satellites are similar to LEO satellites in functionality. MEO satellites are visible for much longer periods of time than LEO satellites, usually between 2 and 8 hours. MEO satellites have a larger coverage area than LEO satellites. A MEO satellite’s longer duration of visibility and wider footprint means fewer satellites are needed in a MEO network than a LEO network. One disadvantage is that a MEO satellite’s distance gives it a longer time delay and weaker signal than a LEO satellite, although these limitations are not as severe as those of a GEO satellite.
Like LEOs, these satellites do not maintain a stationary distance from the earth. This is in contrast to the geostationary orbit, where satellites are always 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi) from the earth.
Typically the orbit of a medium earth orbit satellite is about 16,000 kilometres (10,000 mi) above earth. In various patterns, these satellites make the trip around earth in anywhere from 2 to 8 hours.