Projected Future Plans of Satellites

Cristina D. / Physics 336 / 7 April 1997
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[ Teledesic: Internet in the Sky ] [ Uses of Teledesic ] [ Implementation of Teledesic]
[ Mechanics of Teledesic ] [ Future Costs of Satellites ] [ Communications in the Sky ]
[ The Future of Satellites in Scientific Research ]
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.

Teledesic: Internet 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" (cover).


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).


Implementation of Teledesic

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 (Kupfer 4).


Communications 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 4).


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.

1994 ed.