05 January 2006

Satellites & More in Our Airspace

Quote for the Day:

"No one owns space, so everyone has a right to know what's up there."
Dr. Laura Grego
Cambridge astrophysicist

With all the lights both explained and unexplained in our solar system these days, this post covers our satellite paths, altitudes, movement, history, intelligence concerns and a bit more.

photo credit: octopus.gma.org

A satellite looks like a star that drifts across the sky. It does not have blinking or colored lights like airplanes do. Depending on it's orbit it may move quite quickly, covering the distance from one horizon to the other in a few minutes, others appear to move more slowly, these are in higher orbits and are generally dimmer.

Equatorial and polar satellites fly at low altitudes between 100 and 1,000 miles. To an observer on the ground, they seem to climb up from the horizon, pass overhead, and fall below the horizon several times a day. Stationary satellites, on the other hand, are in very high equatorial orbits 22,300 miles above Earth. They are so far above the planet's surface they seem to us to be standing still overhead

photo credit: octopus.gma.org

Other well-known stationary communications satellites are Inmarsat and TDRS

North American cloud photos seen in television weathercasts usually have been made by American satellites known as Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES).

photo credit: kowoma.de

Earth has three different types of satellite systems:

1. International Satellite Communication System – INTELSAT

The INTELSAT Organization was established in 1964 to handle technical and administrative problems associated with a world wide telecommunication system. The international regions served by INTELSAT are divided into:

  • The Atlantic Ocean region (AOR)
  • The Pacific Ocean Region (POR)
  • The Indian Ocean region (IOR)

For each region, satellites are positioned in geo-stationary orbit above the particular Ocean, where they provide a transoceanic telecommunication route.

2. Domestic Satellite System – DOMSAT

Domestic satellites are used to provide various telecommunication services (voice, data, & video transmission) within a country. These occupy The Clarke Belt.

3. Search and Rescue System – SARSAT

Polar-orbiting satellites orbit the earth covering the north and south polar-regions.

photo credit: spacetoday.org

An infinite number of polar satellite orbits are possible. Polar satellites are used to provide environmental data, and to help locate ships and aircrafts in distress. Polar satellites look down on Earth's entire surface, passing above the North and South Poles several times a day. As the satellite loops around the globe, Earth seems to rotate under the orbit.

Kewl trivia::

  • USSR launched SPUTNIK 1, the first man-made object to orbit the earth October 4th, 1957.
  • First polar-orbiting U.S. weather satellite - Nimbus-1 launched 1964.
  • U.S. communications satellite Syncom-3 - first successful launch to stationary orbit (1964). It made history that fall by sending TV pictures of the 1964 Olympic Games in Japan across the Pacific to the U.S.
  • First U.S. Earth-resources observation satellite, Landsat-1 launched 1972
  • Shuttles and stations fly in equatorial orbits
  • The ever popular Google Satellite/Hybrid Map


Definitions & Related Terms of Earth-Orbiting Satellites
Make your own satellite tracking bowl
Tech Museum Satellites Polar Orbits
The Spy Satellite So Stealthy that the Senate Couldn't Kill It
Union of Concerned Scientists
Report on Observation of UFO's during the night of 30MAR90 by Major Lambrechts
Canada Centre for Remote Sensing
NASA's Dirty Little Secret: Remarkable UFOs captured on NASA Open Broadcasts


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