We frequently get asked at satellite conferences and trade shows about what satellites are actually used for apart from spying/military use and satellite TV purposes. In fact there are many more widespread uses of satellites that don’t necessarily come to mind in most conversations about them. We decided to put together a list of the top 10 reasons satellites exist:
- Astronomy satellites – These really offer us glimpses of the planets around us in ways that could not be accomplished with a traditional telescope. The main advantage is that the various gases in our atmosphere do not obstruct a satellite’s view nor does the heat of the Earth impact it. This allows an astronomy satellite to see 10 times further into space than a traditional and similarly powered telescope.
- Atmospheric Studies – Speaking of the Earth’s atmosphere, an atmospheric satellite gives us a unique chance to study the various layers of the earth’s atmosphere. Whether we want to study the aurora borealis (aka Northern Lights) or just studying the ionosphere, atmospheric satellites help us understand the World we live in better.
- Satellite TV – This is really just a use of a communication satellite, but it’s very common and therefore we split communication into multiple uses. There are FTA (free-to-air) TV satellites which publicly broadcast unencrypted signals and then there are commercial TV satellites which broadcast encrypted signals (DIRECTV, DishNetwork, etc.).
- Satellite Phone – This is yet one more example of a communication satellite use. Prior to communication satellites making long distances calls over great distances (around the World) was difficult and usually resulted in communication problems (hard to hear, etc.). Satellites can deliver the signals to other satellites that are closer to the destination enabling much better long distance communications.
- Satellite Internet – Another use of a communication satellite is to provide Internet access to remote locations that would be cost prohibitive to provide any other way. Whether it’s rural areas in the U.S. or sparsely populated regions around the World, almost everyone can now get high speed internet access if they want it thanks to satellites.
- Navigation Satellites – These were developed in the late 50’s to help ships with navigating the ocean. In fact the launch of the Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 was intended for this use. Currently we use navigation satellites frequently in our cars and even on our mobile phones. Again, all thanks to the existence of these satellites.
- Reconnaissance Satellite – There are four different types of reconnaissance satellites (optical imaging, radar-imaging, radio receivers, and relay satellites). The intentions are all the same in the end which is to help one government or military body to track the movements of another. These are of course critical to National security.
- Remote Sensing Satellites – These are put into orbit to monitor the environment from a distance. They track things like animal migration, monitoring weather damage or natural or man-made disasters (like oil spills and sinkholes).
- Space Exploration Satellites– We are not talking about the voyages of the starship Enterprise, but we are talking about probes being sent to other planets to take pictures and some samples if possible from other parts of our solar system. We used them to view Jupiter’s rings and to analyze the atmosphere of other planets.
- Weather Satellites – These are staples of weather forecasters around the World and would make the weather channel and other TV news broadcast completely different if we didn’t have them. Weather satellites provide us with the best way to monitor and predict weather patterns.
So the next time you get into a conversation about the 900 plus satellites that are orbiting the Earth you will have a better idea of why these satellites are up there and why they are necessary.