- an overview of the many uses or applications for satellites in today's world
There are many applications for satellites in today's world. Ever since the first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched in 1957, large numbers of satellites have been launched into space to meet a variety of needs. As satellite technology has developed over the years, so ahs the number of applications to which they can be put. Whatever the type of satellite it is necessary to be able to communicate with them, and in view of the large distances, the only feasible technology is radio. As such radio communication is an integral part of any satellite system, whatever its application.
Astronomical satellites - these satellites are used for the observation of distant stars and other objects in space. Placing an observation point in space removes the unwanted effects of the atmosphere and enables far greater levels of detail to be seen than would be possible on earth where many observatories are placed on mountain tops that experience low levels of cloud. The most famous astronomical satellite is the Hubble Telescope. Although now reaching the end of its life it has enabled scientists to see many things that would otherwise not have been possible. Nevertheless it did suffer some major design setbacks that were only discovered once it was in orbit.
Communications satellites - these satellites possible form the greatest number of satellites that are in orbit. They are used for communicating over large distances. The height of the satellite above the Earth enables the satellites to communicate over vast distances, and thereby overcoming the curvature of the Earth's surface.
Even within the communications field there are a number of sub-categories. Some satellites are used for point to point telecommunications links, others are used for mobile communications, and there are those used for direct broadcast. There are even some satellites used for mobile phone style communications. Even though these satellites did not take the market in the way that was originally expected because terrestrial mobile phone networks spread faster than was originally envisaged, some mobile phone satellite systems still exist.
Earth observation satellites - these satellites are used for observing the earth's surface and as a result they are often termed geographical satellites. Using these satellites it is possible to see many features that are not obvious from the earth's surface, or even at the altitudes at which aircraft fly. Using these earth observation satellites many geographical features have become obvious and they have even been used in mineral search and exploitation.
Navigation satellites - in recent years satellites have been used for accurate navigation. The first system known as GPS (Global Positioning System) was set up by the US DoD and was primarily intended for use as a highly accurate military system. Since then it has been adopted by a huge number of commercial and private users. Small GPS systems are available at costs that are affordable by the individual and are used for car navigation, and they are even being incorporated into phones in a system known as A-GPS (Assisted GPS) to enable accurate location of the phone in case of emergency.
Further systems are planned for the future. The Russian system known as Glonass and the European and Chinese system Galileo are planned for the future.
Reconnaissance satellites - these satellites, are able to see objects on the ground and are accordingly used for military purposes. As such their performance and operation is kept secret and not publicized.
Weather satellites - as the name implies these satellites are used to monitor the weather. They have helped considerably in the forecasting of the weather and have helped provide a much better understanding not only of the underlying phenomena, but also in enabling predictions to be made. A variety of these satellites are in use and include the NOAA series.
There are now many thousands of satellites in orbit around the Earth. Many are in operations, while some that have not yet fallen out of orbit are still circling the Earth. The operational satellites provide many of the services on which we rely today. Without them many of the services which we have come to accept as normal would not be so nearly to achieve by other means.
By Ian Poole
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