Satellites Orbiting Earth

How a Satellite Works

Satellites are very complex machines that require precise mathematical calculations in order for them to function. The satellite has tracking systems and very sophisticated computer systems on board. Accuracy in orbit and speed are required for the satellite to keep from crashing back down to Earth. There are several different types of orbits that the satellite can take. Some orbits are stationary and some are elliptical.”Satellite Orbit”

Low Earth Orbit

A satellite is in “Low Earth Orbit” when it circles in an elliptical orbit close to Earth. Satellites in low orbit are just hundreds of miles away. These satellites travel at high speeds preventing gravity from pulling them back to Earth. Low Orbit Satellites travel approximately 17,000 miles per hour and circle the Earth in an hour and a half.

Polar Orbit

This is how a satellite travels in a polar orbit.

This is how a satellite travels in a polar orbit. These orbits eventually pass the entire surface of the Earth.

Polar Orbiting Satellites circle the planet in a north-south direction as Earth spins beneath it in an east-west direction. Polar Orbits enable satellites to scan the entire surface of the Earth. Like pealing an orange peal in a circular motion from top to bottom. Remote sensing satellites, weather satellites, and government satellites are almost always in polar orbit because of the coverage. Polar orbits cover the Earth’s surface thoroughly. The polar obit occupied by a satellite has a constant location in which it passes over. ALL POLAR ORBITING SATELLITES INTERSECT The North Pole at their same point. While one Polar orbit satellite is over America, another Polar Satellite is passing over the North Pole. So the North Pole has a constant flow of UHF and higher microwaves hitting it. The illustration shows that the common passing point for Polar Orbiting Satellites is over the North Pole.

A polar orbiting satellite will pass over the Earths equator at a different longitude on each of its orbits; however, Polar Orbiting satellites pass over the North Pole every time. Polar orbits are often used for earth mapping, earth observation, weather satellites, and reconnaissance satellites. This orbit has a disadvantage. No one spot of the Earth’s surface can be sensed continuously from a satellite in a polar orbit.

This is from U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command.

“In order to fulfill the military need for protected communication service, especially low probability of intercept/detection (LPI/LPD), to units operating north of 65 degree northern latitude, the space communications architecture includes the polar satellite system capability. An acceptable approach to achieving this goal is to fly a low capacity EHF system in a highly elliptical orbit, either as a hosted payload or as a “free-flyer,” to provide service during a transition period, nominally 1997-2010. A single, hosted EHF payload is already planned. Providing this service 24 hours-a-day requires a two satellite constellation at high earth orbit (HEO). Beyond 2010, the LPI/LPD polar service could continue to be provided by a high elliptical orbit HEO EHF payload, or by the future UHF systems.” (quote from


“Geo Synchronous” Orbit

This is how a satellite travels in a Equitorial orbit

This is how a satellite travels in a “Geo Synchronous” orbit. Equatorial orbits are also called “Geostationary”. These satellites follow the rotation of the Earth.

A satellite in a “Geo Synchronous” orbit hovers over one spot and follows the Earths spin along the equator. Go to this link for more information on “Geo synchronous Orbits”. Earth takes 24 hours to spin on its axis.  In the illustration you can see that an “Geo Synchronous” Orbit follows the equator and never covers the North or South Poles. The footprints of “Geo Synchronous” orbiting satellites do not cover the polar regions, so communication satellites in “Geo Synchronous” orbits in cannot be accessed in the northern and southern polar regions.

Because the “Geo Synchronous” satellite does not move from the area that it covers, these satellites are used for telecommunications, gps trackers, television broadcasting, government, and internet. Because they are stationary, their orbits are much farther from the Earth than the Polar orbiting satellites. If a stationary satellite is too close to the Earth, it will crash back down at a faster rate. They say there are about 300 “Geo Synchronous” satellites in orbit right now. Of course, these are the satellites that the public is allowed to know about, that are not governmentally classified.

Satellite Anatomy

This is the Atatomy of a Satellite.

This is the Anatomy of a Satellite.

A satellite is made up of several instruments that work together to operate the satellite during its mission. This illustration to the left demonstrates the parts of a satellite.

The command and data system controls all of the satellite functions. This is a very complex computer system that communicates all of the satellite flight operations, where the satellite points, and any other mathematical operations.

The Pointing control directs the satellite in order for the satellite to keep a steady flight path. This system is a complex sensor instrument that keeps the satellite pointing in the same direction. The satellite uses a propulsion system called “momentum wheels” that adjusts the position of the satellite into its proper place. Scientific observation satellites have more precise propulsion systems than do communications satellites.

The Communications system has a transmitter, a receiver, and various antennas to transmit data to the Earth . On Earth, Ground control sends instructions and data to the satellite’s computer through the Antenna. Pictures, data, television, radio, and many other data is sent by the satellite back to practically everyone on Earth.

The Power system needed power and operate the satellite is an efficient solar panel array that obtains energy from the Sun’s rays. Solar arrays make electricity from the sunlight and store the electricity in rechargeable batteries.

The Payload is what a satellite needs to perform its job. A weather satellite would have a payload that consist of an Image sensor, digital camera, telescope, and other thermal and weather sensing devices.

The Thermal Control is the protection required to prevent damage to the satellite’s instrumentation and components in. Satellite are exposed to extreme temperature changes. Temperatures range from 120 degrees below zero to 180 degrees above zero. Heat distribution units and thermal blankets to protect the electronics and components from temperature damage.

Satellite Footprints

A single satellite footprint

Here you can see one footprint covers an enormous area.

Geostationary satellites have a very broad view of Earth. The footprint of one Echo Starbroadcast satellite covers almost all of North America. They stay over the Earth at same the same location so we always know where they are. Direct contact with the satellite can be made because Equatorial Satellites are fixed.

Many communications satellites travel in Equatorial orbits, including those that relay TV signals into our homes; However, the size of the footprint of one satellite covers the entire Northern America.

The multi path effect that occurs when satellite transmissions are obstructed by topographical entities also provides insight on microwave global warming. Microwaves are being bombarded upon our planet. Our planet absorbs and obstructs the waves from space. Microwaves penetrate through all of our atmosphere and bounce and echo off of the Earth. Imagine the footprint overlaps that are being produced by the thousands of satellites in orbit right now?

coverage 8 pic

Here you can see the footprint overlapping the that satellites make. Each satellite covers an enormous area.

The closer the satellite is to something the more power will be exerted on the object. The farther the waves have to go the less power they will have. Because the atmosphere is so much closer to the satellite, there is a stronger beam of energy going through the clouds and atmosphere. This stronger power causes a higher rate of warming in the atmosphere than it does on the surface of the Earth.

The illustration to the right shows how eight satellites microwave an enormous part of our Earth. When the radio signals reflect off of surrounding terrain; buildings, canyon walls, hard ground multi path issues occur due to multiple waves doubling over themselves. These delayed signals can cause poor signals. Ultimately, the water, ice, and Earth are absorbing and reflecting microwaves in many different directions. Microwaves passing through Earths atmospheres are causing radio frequency heating at the molecular level.

System spectral efficiency

“In wireless networks, the system spectral efficiency is a measure of the quantity of users or services that can be simultaneously supported by a limited radio frequency bandwidth in a defined geographic area.” The capacity of a wireless network can be measured by calculating the maximum simultaneous phone calls over 1 MHz frequency spectrum. This is measured in Erlangs//MHz/cell, Erlangs/MHz/sector, Erlangs/MHz/site, or Erlangs/MHz/km measurements. Modern day cell phones take advantage of this type of transmission. These cell phones transmit a microwave transmission that is twice the frequency of a microwave oven in your home.

This is a misconception of how microwave frequencies travel.

This is a misconception of how microwave frequencies travel.

An example of a spectral efficiency can be found in the satellite RADARSAT-1. In 1995 RADARSAT-1, an Earth observation satellite from Canada, was launched in an orbit above the Earth. RADRASAT-1 provides images of the Earth, scientific and commercial, used in agriculture, geology, hydrology, arctic surveillance, oceanography, cartography, ice and ocean monitoring, forestry, detecting ocean oil slicks, and many other applications. This satellite uses continuous high microwave transmissions. A Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) system is a type of sensor that images the Earth at a single microwave frequency of 5.3 GHz. SAR systems transmit microwaves towards the surface of the Earthy and record the reflections from the surface. This satellite can image the Earth during any time and in any atmospheric condition.

This is how microwave frequencies travel

This is how microwave frequencies actually travel.

A Common misconception about microwave transmissions is that the transmission is directly beaming straight into the receiving antennae. (See misconception illustration) This however, is not true. Transmissions are spread into the air in a spherical direction. The waves travel in every direction until they find a receiver or some dielectric material to pass into.

When a microwave transmission is sent to a receiving satellite dish the transmission is sent in a spherical direction. (See how microwaves travel illustration) The signal passes through all parts of that sphere until it finds a connection. All microwaves, not received by an antennae, pass through the dielectric material in the earth. Dielectric material is primarily water and ice.


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