Today represents a new era for the space industry and a big part of it, the commercial satellite industry, is at an inflexion point. This is partly because of the massive growth in the sheer number of satellites in Earth orbit which as of the beginning of 2023 totaled over 7,000. From 2016-2020, an average of 585 satellites were launched each year. That number rose to over 2,300 in 2022 and represents a whopping increase of approximately 300 percent.
Also, thanks to massive leaps in technological innovation and production, today’s satellites can do more than ever before and the cost to manufacture and launch these orbiting machines has also dropped dramatically. Today satellites of all shapes and sizes provide us with a wide variety of vital and everyday services.
Who Uses Satellites?
Each and every day billions* of worldwide government and enterprise customers use the extraordinary services offered by satellites, including millions of American consumers, and most of them don’t even know it. If you used your cellular phone, paid for gas at the pump, watched an international or a national sporting event on TV, surfed the internet on a plane, located a store or restaurant on a smart phone or tablet or used your car’s navigation system, you have been using satellites.
*According to statista.com, the number of mobile phone users worldwide is expected to surpass 5 billion by sometime during 2019. Mobile phone networks operate using critical timing data provided by GPS satellites.
What Services Do Satellites Provide?
Satellites are used to receive and transmit a wide range of data and information. Because they operate in space, satellites have the advantage of communicating and collecting data from virtually anywhere – without being hindered by terrestrial coverage limitations. Thus they can “see” large sections of the Earth’s surface, collect data more quickly than instruments on the ground and provide services with an unmatched level of ubiquity. Here are just a few examples of the types of services provided by satellites:
- Remote Sensing & Imaging – Remote sensing satellites detect both visible light for photographs as well as electromagnetic radiation used for microwave, ultraviolet, infrared, radio, and other types of sensing. This information is used by weather forecasters, farmers, natural resources companies, geologists and other scientists, government users, and a host of other customers.
- Mobile Communications – Mobile communications satellites provide ubiquitous voice and data services to users virtually anywhere, far beyond the coverage provided by cellular or terrestrial networks.
- Broadband Connectivity – Many communications satellites provide high speed broadband services. Many more constellations (networks of satellites) are being launched and developed which will also help bridge the “Digital Divide” and provide connectivity for users on land, sea and in the air.
- GPS & Navigation – GPS satellites provide location-based services for navigation devices, including the average smartphone. They also serve billions of customers with timing information which is critical for the operation of everyday services such as cellular mobile and financial networks, power grids, FAA weather radar and more – all of it free of charge.
- Emergency Response & Disaster Relief – Because satellites fly far above the Earth’s surface, this makes space-based voice, data and broadband services ideal for use by emergency responders who often require service where terrestrial networks have been damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes, or other disasters. Satellites also provide connectivity for average citizens in the months it may take to rebuild cell towers.
- Broadcast: Satellite TV & Radio – Broadcast satellites transmit video of live news and sporting events so that viewers around the world can watch these events take place live and as they happen. Satellite television and radio signals provide news, weather, sports and entertainment to millions of consumers in the U.S. and around the globe.
- IoT and M2M – The Internet of Things (IoT) describes devices that are networked or connected to the internet. This include laptops, tablets and cell phones but it also includes a myriad of devices such as vending machines, tracking tags, oil and gas wells, connected automobiles, and literally billions of other devices. Satellite data can connect many of these devices even when they are operating far beyond the coverage of terrestrial networks.
- Satellite Telehealth – Telehealth services are used to remotely connect patients to health care professionals via the internet, allowing them to remotely monitor the progress and condition of a patient without being onsite. Satellite data services are particularly suited to connect patients who are located in rural regions, across America and the entire world, who do not have access to terrestrial broadband coverage.
The Impact of Satellites Around the World – Interactive Map
As you can see above, satellites provide important and critical services to Americans at home and abroad, but they also have a massive impact on the daily lives of billions of people all around the world. Courtesy of the Global Satellite Coalition or GSC, please click on the link below to view an interactive map of the globe that shows just a few examples of how satellites benefit the world’s population each and every day.