How Satellite Communication Works and What are its Different Types?

  • How Satellite Communication Works and What are its Different Types?

Our daily lives including livelihood, communication, entertainment, security and privacy are heavily reliant on satcom equipment. In fact, as we have discussed in our previous articles, satcom equipment has become a crucial part of numerous industries as well. From maritime operations and agriculture to health, finance, manufacturing and aviation, satcom equipment has become an undeniable need of today. However, there are several types of satellite communications that keep the world interconnected.

In this article, we have shed some light on the various types of satellite communication, but first an overview is required to understand how satellite communication mainly works.


How Satellite Communication Works?

To establish a proper satellite network and communicate through signals, there are several operations executed at more or less the same time. While the process may look complex, it is fairly easy to understand.

  1. A ground unit device, such as a mobile phone, computer, broadcasting stations, ships and aircrafts convert data into radio frequency signals.
  2. The radio frequency signals are transmitted to earth stations that initiate the uplink transmission towards satellites with the help of an antenna.
  3. Satellites receive the uplink transmission and change their frequency band. They also amplify the signal and begin downlink transmission with transponders.
  4. Respective earth stations receive the downlink signal from the satellite and convert them back into the data form.
  5. The earth stations transfer the decoded data into respective ground devices.

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Different types of Satellite Communication


Due to the various applications of satellite communication, its different types can be classified in many ways. For example, by their distance from the earth’s surface, by the purpose of communication and by reception type.


By Distance:

  1. Low Earth orbit (LEO): These satellites are positioned at 160-1,500 kilometers above the earth’s surface and can easily travel around the planet. The primary purpose of Low Earth Orbit satellites is earth observation, weather forecasting and scientific research.
  2. Medium Earth orbit (MEO): Located between 5,000 - 20,000 kilometers from the earth’s surface, MEO satellites are primarily used for GPS positioning and data communication. However, their signal is weaker than LEO satellites.
  3. Geostationary orbit (GEO): GEO satellites are positioned above 35,000 from the Earth’s surface, right above the equator. Their rotation speed is also the same as Earth, due to which they appear stationary at one place. As they have a wide coverage, they are used to broadcast TV and phone signals.

By Function:

  1. Voice and Data Communication: The main purpose behind this type of communication is to create an interactional channel between multiple regions. The interaction can be both via voice and data. For example, telephone networks, internet networks and television networks. Long distance communication for disaster management or during maritime communication.
  2. Astronomical: Astronomical satellites are launched in high orbits to take infrared imaging of the space and transfer it back to earth stations. These satellites are also a necessity as they can capture infrared images without being influenced by the earth’s surface temperature and thus, help us immensely in space exploration.
  3. Navigation: Navigational satellites are positioned in constellations and they report their time and position in space for geolocation and navigation purposes. These satellites can also be divided into two types: GNSS and RNSS. While GNSS satellites provide global coverage (like in GPS), the latter provide regional coverage.
  4. Earth Observation Satellites: These satellites are primarily used for monitoring Earth’s atmosphere and surface. The two primary examples of earth observation satellites are weather satellites and remote sensing satellites. While weather satellites help us report and predict weather conditions, remote sensing satellites measure cloud surface and earth surface’s characteristics and abnormalities.

By Transmission:

  1. Fixed Satellite Services (FSS): These refer to geostationary satellites primarily used for ground and sea-based communication. They have a large dish antenna to provide better signal reception and require low power output. FSS satellites are also used for other purposes such as broadcasting, internet connectivity and ensuring continuous data communication
  2. Broadcast Satellite Services (BSS): BSS satellites transmit or retransmit radio frequency signals for direct reception in general public. They are more suitable for television, radio, and internet broadcasting than other satellites.
  3. Mobile Satellite Services (MSS): MSS enable two-way voice and data transfer between multiple earth stations, space stations, satellites and mobile earth stations. Thus, they provide the best reception for telephonic communication and mobile units, such as aircrafts and ships. They are also highly effective for disaster management.

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