Satellites, specifically artificial satellites, are objects intentionally placed into orbit for several applications. Commonly, the satellites orbit our planet as platforms for Earth surface observation with military and civilian applications, communications, navigation, weather observation, and as telescopes for space observation. Many of these satellites are placed in Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), geostationary orbit (GEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), and low Earth orbit (LEO) based on their distance from the Earth and their application. These satellites either work as a standalone platform or as a part of a larger constellation – such as the GPS (global positioning system) for navigation systems or the more recent Starlink constellation for providing broadband internet connection from space.
Global space market – Navigation, Communication, and Observation
Satellites are an integral part of the global space market, with commercial clients generating the most revenue. This commercial market can be further divided into navigation, communication, and Earth observation services. The latter two account for most of the market, with Earth observation still gaining momentum with the demand for sustainable development rising.
The most demanded application in the global commercial sector is navigation. There are four major global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) – GPS (global positioning system) by the United States, GLONASS (global navigation satellite system) by Russia, Galileo by the European Union, and BeiDou by China. Previously, these systems were limited to large navigational devices onboard vehicles with a high cost of ownership. Thanks to the very-large-scale integration (VLSI) of chips, they have now become a standard smartphone or smartwatch feature. Currently, these systems are being used every day, whether on Google or Apple maps, either for directions on smartphones or as navigation devices on cars.
Then comes the communications satellite, which provides telecommunication, broadcasting, and data communication services. Historically, intercontinental telephony was first achieved with the help of the Testar-I satellite backed by AT&T that NASA launched in 1962. The most recent influential communication satellites have been designed with various applications to improve space-based communication systems.
Some of the notable launches are Starlink - by SpaceX for high-speed satellite internet; Micius - by China for data encryption experiments for secure communication using quantum entanglement; Artemis - by ESA (European space agency) using laser link as a communication method for communication between satellites and ground stations, and finally the Iridium-NEXT -by Iridium, a multi-role satellite with payloads for communications and Earth observation.
Earth observation (EO) satellite or Earth remote sensing satellite is designed and built to observe and monitor weather and climate, changes in Earth’s vegetation and sea surface, and map the terrain using optical or radar-based technology. Once serving as a powerful tool for scientific research or defense, these observation data are now being extensively utilized in precision farming, natural disasters warning, energy and infrastructure, forestry and land use, mapping, and GIS (geographic information systems), as well as sustainability. Based on the requirements, some commercially available satellite data can now be ordered online as a customized product for the consumer.
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Lionel Sujay Vailshery
Research expert covering the consumer electronics industry