Satellite communications (SATCOM) is crucial for the military, primarily because it provides beyond line of sight communications which can cover one-third of the earth or more on a single satellite.
Satellite communications is also important in the non-military world as well. Satellite communications touches our lives in ways most people don’t fully appreciate. From GPS to satellite TV to the communication networks that make modern economic and political affairs possible, there are few areas of life that the rise of SATCOM technology has not shaped in some way, directly or indirectly.
Satellite communications has even become prominent in search and rescue. Over the past couple of years, more than 725 lives have been saved with NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites. These special satellites use a network of U.S. and international spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons aboard aircraft, boats and from handheld Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) anywhere in the world.
Every usable artificial satellite — whether it’s a human or robotic one — has four main parts to it: a power system (which could be solar or nuclear, for example), a way to control its attitude, an antenna to transmit and receive information, and a payload to collect information (such as a camera or particle detector).
Geostationary or geosynchronous orbit is the best spot for communications satellites to use, however. This is a zone above Earth’s equator at an altitude of 35,786 km (22,236 mi).
At this altitude, the rate of “fall” around the Earth is about the same as Earth’s rotation, which allows the satellite to stay above the same spot on Earth almost constantly. The satellite thus keeps a perpetual connection with a fixed antenna on the ground, allowing for reliable communications.
There are an estimated half-million artificial objects in Earth orbit today, ranging in size from paint flecks up to full-fledged satellites — each traveling at speeds of thousands of miles an hour. Only a fraction of these satellites are useable, meaning that there is a lot of “space junk” floating around out there.
With everything that is lobbed into orbit, the chance of a collision increases.
Want to learn more? Tonex offers Military and Commercial Satellite Communications Training, a 5-day course that provides a full range of training options that include classroom training as well as optional hands-on operation of equipment and systems.
For more information, questions, comments, contact us.