In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object that has been placed into orbit by human endeavor. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon.
Satellites are useful for a number of purposes. They are used for communications, navigation, map-making, astronomical observations, scientific experimentation, and monitoring of the Earth's environment and weather conditions. Some satellites with military missions may conduct espionage or carry weapons to destroy enemy warheads and satellites.
The first fictional depiction of a satellite being launched into orbit is a short story by Edward Everett Hale, The Brick Moon. The story was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, starting in 1869. The idea surfaces again in Jules Verne's The Begum's Millions (1879).
In 1903, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) published Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), which was the first academic treatise on the use of rocketry to launch spacecraft. He calculated the orbital speed required for a minimal orbit around the Earth at 8 km/s, and that a multi-stage rocket fueled by liquid propellants could be used to achieve this. He proposed the use of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, though other combinations could be used.
In 1928, Herman Potočnik (1892–1929) published his sole book, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums - der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel—The Rocket Motor), a plan for a breakthrough into space and a permanent human presence there. He conceived of a space station in detail and calculated its geostationary orbit. He described the use of orbiting spacecraft for detailed peaceful and military observation of the ground and described how the special conditions of space could be useful for scientific experiments. The book described geostationary satellites (first put forward by Tsiolkovsky) and discussed communication between them and the ground using radio, but fell short of the idea of using satellites for mass broadcasting and as telecommunications relays.
In a 1945 Wireless World article, the English science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) described in detail the possible use of communications satellites for mass communications. Clarke examined the logistics of satellite launch, possible orbits, and other aspects of the creation of a network of world-circling satellites, pointing to the benefits of high-speed global communications. He also suggested that three geostationary satellites would provide coverage over the entire planet.
The first artificial satellite was Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, and that started the whole Soviet Sputnik program, with Sergei Korolev as chief designer. This triggered the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Sputnik 1 helped to identify the density of high atmospheric layers through measurement of its orbital change and provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere. Because the satellite's body was filled with pressurized nitrogen, Sputnik 1 also provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection, as a loss of internal pressure due to meteoroid penetration of the outer surface would have been evident in the temperature data sent back to Earth. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1's success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the so-called Space Race within the Cold War.
In May, 1946, Project RAND had released the Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship, which stated, "A satellite vehicle with appropriate instrumentation can be expected to be one of the most potent scientific tools of the Twentieth Century. The United States had been considering launching orbital satellites since 1945 under the Bureau of Aeronautics of the United States Navy. The United States Air Force's Project RAND eventually released the above report, but did not believe that the satellite was a potential military weapon; rather, they considered it to be a tool for science, politics, and propaganda.
On July 29, 1955, the White House announced that the U.S. intended to launch satellites by the spring of 1958. This became known as Project Vanguard. On July 31, the Soviets announced that they intended to launch a satellite by the fall of 1957.
Following pressure by the American Rocket Society, the National Science Foundation, and the International Geophysical Year, military interest picked up and in early 1955 the Air Force and Navy were working on Project Orbiter, which involved using a Jupiter C rocket to launch a satellite. The project succeeded, and Explorer 1 became the United States' first satellite on January 31, 1958.
The largest artificial satellite currently orbiting the Earth is the International Space Station.
The first satellite, Sputnik 1, was put into orbit around Earth and was therefore in geocentric orbit. By far this is the most common type of orbit with approximately 2456 artificial satellites orbiting the Earth. Geocentric orbits may be further classified by their altitude, inclination and eccentricity.
The commonly used altitude classifications are Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and High Earth Orbit (HEO). Low Earth orbit is any orbit below 2000 km, and Medium Earth Orbit is any orbit higher than that but still below the altitude for geosynchronous orbit at 35786 km. High Earth Orbit is any orbit higher than the altitude for geosynchronous orbit.
The satellite’s functional versatility is imbedded within its technical components and its operations characteristics. Looking at the “anatomy” of a typical satellite, one discovers two modules. Note that some novel architectural concepts such as Fractionated Spacecraft somewhat upset this taxonomy.
This first module consist of five subsystems:
The structural subsystem provides the mechanical base structure, shields the satellite from extreme temperature changes and micro-meteorite damage, and controls the satellite’s spin functions.
The telemetry subsystem monitors the on-board equipment operations, transmits equipment operation data to the earth control station, and receives the earth control station’s commands to perform equipment operation adjustments.
The power subsystem consists of solar panels and backup batteries that generate power when the satellite passes into the earth’s shadow.
The thermal control subsystem helps protect electronic equipment from extreme temperatures due to intense sunlight or the lack of sun exposure on different sides of the satellite’s body
The attitude and orbit controlled subsystem consists of small rocket thrusters that keep the satellite in the correct orbital position and keep antennas positioning in the right directions.
The second major module is the communication payload, which is made up of transponders. A transponders is capable of :
This list includes countries with an independent capability to place satellites in orbit, including production of the necessary launch vehicle. Note: many more countries have the capability to design and build satellites—which relatively speaking, does not require much economic, scientific and industrial capacity—but are unable to launch them, instead relying on foreign launch services. This list does not consider those numerous countries, but only lists those capable of launching satellites indigenously, and the date this capability was first demonstrated. Does not include consortium satellites or multi-national satellites.
|Country||Year of first launch||First satellite|
|Soviet Union||1957||Sputnik 1|
|United States||1958||Explorer 1|
|China||1970||Dong Fang Hong I|
|United Kingdom||1971||Prospero X-3|
In addition to the above, countries such as South Africa, Spain, Italy, West Germany, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Egypt and private companies such as OTRAG, have developed their own launchers, but have not had a successful launch.
As of 2008, only seven countries from list above ( Russia and Ukraine instead of USSR, also USA, Japan, China, India, and Israel) and one regional organization (the European Space Agency, ESA) have independently launched satellites on their own indigenously developed launch vehicles. (The launch capabilities of the United Kingdom and France now fall under the ESA.)
Several other countries, including South Korea, Iran, Brazil, Pakistan, Romania, Kazakhstan, Australia, Malaysia and Turkey, are at various stages of development of their own small-scale launcher capabilities, and seek membership in the club of space powers.
It is scheduled that in early 2008 South Korea will launch a KSLV rocket (created with assistance of Russia) and become the next space power. Iran already has successfully tested its own space launch vehicle (Kavoshgar 1) and is scheduled to put its first domestic satellite (Omid 1) into orbit within a year from February 4, 2008. It is expected that Brazil and Pakistan will follow in the near future.
|Country||Year of first launch||First satellite||Payloads in orbit in 2008|
|Soviet Union||1957||Sputnik 1||1398|
|United States||1958||Explorer 1||1042|
|Italy||1964||San Marco 1||14|
|China||1970||Dong Fang Hong I||64|
|United Kingdom||1971||Prospero X-3||25|
|Poland||1973||Intercosmos Kopernikus 500||?|
|South Korea||1992||Kitsat A||10|
|Saudi Arabia||2000||Saudisat 1A||12|
|United Arab Emirates||2000||Thuraya 1||3|
|Greece||2003||Hellas Sat 2||2|
While Canada was the third country to build a satellite which was launched into space, it was launched aboard a U.S. rocket from a U.S. spaceport. The same goes for Australia, who launched on-board a donated Redstone rocket. The first Italian-launched was San Marco 1, launched on 15 December, 1964 on a U.S. Scout rocket from Wallops Island. Virginia, USA, with an Italian Launch Team trained by NASA. Australia's launch project, in November 1967, involved a donated U.S. missile and U.S. support staff as well as a joint launch facility with the United Kingdom. Kazakhstan announced its intention to build their satellite independently, but lacking the adequate technology to construct it, the government had to place an order with Russia’s Khrunichev space technology center. Polish and Bulgarian satellites had previously used Russian assistance.
Satellites in low earth orbit have been destroyed by ballistic missiles launched from earth. Both Russia and the United States have demonstrated ability to eliminate satellites. In 2007 the Chinese military shot down an ageing weather satellite, followed by the US Navy shooting down a defunct spy satellite in February 2008. Russia and the United States have also shot down satellites during the Cold War.
Due to the low received signal strength of satellite transmissions they are prone to Radio jamming by land-based transmitters. Such jamming is limited to the geographical area within the transmitter's range. GPS satellites are potential targets for jamming, but satellite phone and television signals have also been subjected to jamming.
The United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN) has been tracking space objects since 1957 when the Soviets opened the space age with the launch of Sputnik I. Since then, the SSN has tracked more than 26,000 space objects orbiting Earth. The SSN currently tracks more than 8,000 man-made orbiting objects. The rest have re-entered Earth's turbulent atmosphere and disintegrated, or survived re-entry and impacted the Earth. The space objects now orbiting Earth range from satellites weighing several tons to pieces of spent rocket bodies weighing only 10 pounds. About seven percent of the space objects (i.e. about 560 satellites) are operational satellites, the rest are space debris. USSTRATCOM is primarily interested in the active satellites, but also tracks space debris which upon reentry might otherwise be mistaken for incoming missiles. The SSN tracks space objects that are 10 centimeters in diameter (baseball size) or larger.
There are three basic categories of non-military satellite services:
Fixed satellite services handle hundreds of billions of voice, data, and video transmission tasks across all countries and continents between certain points on the earth’s surface.
Mobile satellite systems help connect remote regions, vehicles, ships and aircraft to other parts of the world and/or other mobile or stationary communications units, in addition to serving as navigation systems.
Scientific research satellites provide us with meteorological information, land survey data (e.g., remote sensing), and other different scientific research applications such as earth science, marine science, and atmospheric research.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.