Projected Future Plans of Satellites
Cristina D. / Physics 336 / 7 April 1997
Satellites are an up and coming force in the consumer market with many
future plans ahead. New corporations such as Teledesic are revolutionizing
the way satellites are manufactured and used. In addition, corporations
like Motorola and Orbcomm are using satellites to provide global communication
services. Finally, the scientific community is also taking advantage of
the great possibilities that satellites represent in the field of research.
in the Sky
Teledesic is a new corporation headed by Craig McCaw, a cellular technologies
tycoon, which will bring the Internet to the sky through satellites. In
addition, Bill Gates, Microsoft billionaire has also invested his own money
into Teledesic. This corporation plans to create an alternative to the
Internet, in the sky. This alternative uses satellites to transfer large
quantities of information. Kupfer, an author, describes this company, "Teledesic
. . . is the most extreme example of the new wave in communications satellites:
the launch of low-flying constellations rather than high-flying solo-birds"
Uses of Teledesic
Teledesic's practical uses are varied. Therefore, it will offer a wide
selection of services to the consumer. Teledesic will cater to computer
users who want to send and receive data at high speeds. It will provide
users with a radio-spectrum large enough to have video-conferences and
to receive high speed data. Also, this technology will be especially useful
for people in remote areas, where telephone lines used by the Internet
may not be available (Kupfer 2).
In addition, Teledesic is not too far into the future. It should be
available to consumers by the year 2000. Also, for Teledesic to become
a world-wide service, the launch of 840 satellites will take place in the
following two years (Kupfer 2).
Mechanics of Teledesic
At this point, many people question the mechanics of Teledesic. How
will this elaborate plan work technically? First of all, Teledesic will
run on the principle that the satellites will function at a low orbit.
This means that signals will need less time to travel from earth to the
satellite and from the satellite to the earth. However, a low orbit also
means that more satellites will be necessary for global coverage. In addition,
Teledesic wants to convey large amounts of data. This means that wide radio-channels
using ultra-high frequencies are needed. However, high-frequency signals
are stopped by objects on the ground, such as trees. Therefore, users can
only communicate with a high-frequency satellite if it is directly overhead.
These two factors lead to Teledesic's plans to launch 840 satellites. Teledesic
doesn't end here. Kupfer explains the next step in the process. "Once
the satellites are aloft, on board software will choreograph a grand celestial
dance, . . . , satellites will circle in a so-called polar orbit, . . .
, from north to south" (Kupfer 5). Moreover, each satellite will be
linked to eight adjacent satellites. As the satellite receiving data moves
out of an earthbound user's range, a satellite will give the signal to
the next closest satellite. These are just the basics around which Teledesic
revolves (Kupfer 5).
Future Costs of Satellites
Teledesic has lead to not only innovations in communications, but also
has created a plan to manufacture satellites through mass production. This
mass production of satellites has drastically reduced their cost. For example,
instead of a small group of scientists laboring on one satellite for months,
satellites are now being constructed using methods similar to that of an
assembly line. Teledesic's target cost is five and a half million dollars
per satellite. This figure is much smaller than 100 million dollars, which
is what it cost to build a communication satellite before this new method
in the Sky
In addition to Teledesic, other companies such as Motorola are using
satellites to further their services. Motorola plans to launch 66 satellites
to expand its cellular service. This project is known as Iridium. It will
enable people in places where no cellular system exists to communicate
using their cellular phones. Also, a new corporation called Orbcomm hopes
to launch 28 satellites, to allow people in remote places to be paged (Kupfer
The Future of
Satellites in Scientific Research
Satellites are not only advancing in the consumer market, but also
in scientific research. A new satellite system, Earth Resources Technology
Satellite (ERTS) provides additional means of gathering information in
such areas as agriculture, physical and cultural geography, geological
mineral resources, cartography, hydrology, and oceanography. For example,
ERTS can identify gross terrain and major fault lines that generally are
associated with mineral wealth. This will be important for remote regions
of the globe that cannot be surveyed by traditional means. In addition,
ERTS facilitates research having to do with water. It can predict water
reserves, irrigation requirements, and impending floods (Ordway 215).
Satellites are providing many advancements in the consumer market and
areas of scientific research. Teledesic, has opened the realm of the Internet
into the sky. Soon, having a video-conference while on vacation in the
remote islands of Micronesia, will be a reality. Teledesic has also revolutionized
the manufacturing of satellites, by leading the industry into making satellites
using the assembly line concept. This has drastically reduced the costs
of satellites. In addition, Iridium and Orbcomm are leading the pack in
making cellular and paging services available globally. Finally, scientific
research is also improving thanks to satellites. ERTS, a new satellite,
has been designed to provide information about the earth that was never
available before. The future holds the powerful presence of satellites
in the consumer market and in scientific research. Everyday this future
is closer to becoming a reality.
Kupfer, Andrew. "Craig McCaw Sees an Internet In the Sky."
Fortune. 27 May 1996: Cover.
Online. Netscape Navigator. 6 Jan. 1997.
Ordway, Frederick I. "Satellite, Artificial." Encyclopedia
Americana. Grolier Incorporated.