Jacqueline Hochheiser, Corporate Communications
The space industry, and satellite technology in particular, is continuing to grow and become more prevalent with many emerging applications promising to improve the quality of life for millions. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, due to their small size and relatively economical cost, have a powerful and prolific presence in the sky. LEO satellites now support a number of applications including communication, weather forecasting, and navigation to name a few. In this article, we’ll explore how LEO satellites have enabled improvements in those applications and in the convenience and quality of life for the average user on the ground.
What is a LEO Satellite?
Let’s take a closer look at what a LEO satellite is and how it operates. These satellites are aptly named because they orbit close to the earth: typically, between 200 and 2,000 km above Earth’s surface. For comparison, satellites in geostationary orbit sit at altitudes of greater than 35,000 km. LEO satellites are also deployed in large constellations, meaning that they function in groups that range from roughly 50 to 1,000 satellites that work together to create a network.
Due to their small size and economical cost structure compared to traditional satellite hardware, LEO satellites can be built and launched for commercial use at a reasonable price for consumers. These satellites also have a relatively short lifespan, about 7 to 10 years. Higher altitude satellite technologies were are typically built to last up to 30 years, which requires a lot of specialized componentry and extensive qualification. The shorter lifespan of LEO satellites eliminates many of those costs.
The larger size of the constellation also means that if one LEO satellite malfunctions or reaches the end of its life, the other satellites in the constellation can pick up the load until it is replaced. In other words, the network is self-healing. These features have allowed satellites to move into commercial applications rather than being reserved for government work as they were in the past. Let’s take a look at some of the uses of LEO satellites already in active.
LEO satellite technology has made major advancements in the field of global communication. These satellites can help to bring high-speed internet to people in remote and rural areas, bridging the digital divide. Currently, more than half of the world population is without internet. LEO satellites will allow those in these regions to access important resources including online education, telemedicine, e-commerce and social networking to name a few, which will foster economic and social development.
The high-speed internet that LEO satellites provide is also accessible around the globe. These satellites can be launched into any orbit, with no limits as to where around the world they can reach, including the poles. This means that there are more available orbits. Due to this flexibility, LEO satellites can provide internet service to underserved or unserved areas of the planet.
The average American checks the weather more than 3 times a day. LEO satellites have helped to make weather forecasting more accurate with their ability to gather large amounts of data.
Since LEO satellites orbit close to the earth, their altitude is ideal for capturing high-resolution images of weather patterns. They are also able to detect temperature and moisture structure below the cloud top. Their flexibility when it comes to orbit pathways also contributes to their global weather coverage. LEO satellites can even reach the poles, which was previously a challenge.
Not only can this technology help with everyday weather forecasting, but it can also prove a useful tool during disasters including floods, hurricanes, tornados and more. The vast weather data recorded by LEO satellites can help save lives by enabling meteorologists to issue more accurate and timely warnings.
LEO satellites have also played a role in the evolution of navigation. These satellites have helped to power the North American global positioning system known as GPS. This system provides precise positioning and timing information that is integral to daily activities including driving, navigational maps, ride-sharing services, logistics, and even personal fitness trackers.
Navigation powered by LEO satellites have shown to emit stronger signals that are also more hack resistant. This means that the coordinates of a given position, for example in a first responder and emergency situations, can’t be tampered with so the information stays accurate and saves lives. LEO global coverage also means that service will be available to navigational systems on mobile devices such as phones or fitness watches even in rural or remote areas.
Rocketing Toward the Future
There are many ways that LEO satellites and space technology are shaping our lives and creating new conveniences, as well as many ways we haven’t even imagined yet. Mini-Circuits is proud to support our customers that are working toward the advancement of LEO satellite and space technology. If you’re interested in learning more about our effort, click this link.