Satellites

/Satellites

Welcome to our satellites fun facts page!

Over the past 60 years we've seen some of the most amazing developments in space and satellite technology. We've sent the first man-made satellite into space, applied data received here on Earth to keep us better connected, and started the race to ensure we reduce space debris by collecting satellites that have passed the end of their life.

Take a look at our fab facts to learn more about some of the satellites sent into orbit and to find out about the work some of our Space Store partners do.

Image courtesy of NASA

Space Partners

Image courtesy of NASA

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Let’s explore the man-made satellites put into orbit by a launch vehicle in these fab facts. You can also check out our Solar System page to find out more about natural satellites, such as our Moon.

A satellite is anything that orbits another body, this can either be something naturally occurring i.e. a moon orbiting a planet or something that’s man-made.

What are man-made satellites? What they are for and why do we use them?…

Since the earliest days of satellites, we’ve used them to understand more about our Solar System; mapping it out to gain a better understanding of our planetary neighbours; studying the surfaces of the planets and their Moons, as well as to understand if there’s life out there!

We use them to communicate with each other via our mobile phone networks; to find our way around using satellite navigation and our phones using Global Positioning Systems; to predict the weather and any potential weather threats that we may encounter from storms or extreme heat, and as telescopes to send data back from the farthest reaches of our Universe.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Over 40 countries have launched a satellite into space
  • Since the launch of the very first man-made satellite into space in 1957, around 9000 man-made satellites have been sent into orbit
  • At the last count in 2018, around 5,000 were still in space. With only a fraction of those, 1900 approx., remaining in service – there’s a lot of debris and satellites left behind!
  • Satellites can work independently or as part of a wider network to collect and return data
  • Depending on its use and type, satellites will either be launched into low-Earth orbit, medium-Earth orbit, geostationary orbit, or elliptic orbit around the Earth. Other satellites, known as space probes, are sent to explore and orbit the planets and moons of our Solar System.

Image courtesy of NASA Image and Video Library

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Satellites are sent into orbit on a host vehicle at various launch sites across the world – take a look at the fascinating facts on the satellites below to find out more about these. But, what about the satellite body: What does it need to weather the harsh environment of space; make sure it has enough power; knows where it’s going; can share data with the receivers back on Earth? Let’s find out more…

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • During transport, solar panels furl and fold up so that the satellites are a fraction of the size they become once they have left the launch vehicle and begin to unfold
  • Super-light, Lithium-Ion batteries store the charge generated by the satellite’s solar panels
  • As well as being able to cope with the extreme temperatures of space, satellites need to be able to dissipate any heat generated whilst working so that it doesn’t overheat the on-board equipment
  • Satellites share and receive data and take commands from Earth stations. This is done through a range of transmitters, amplifiers and convertors through antennas, plus GPS trackers so that it can maintain its position in orbit
  • Satellites are mounted with cameras used to collect images of its surrounding area and planet surfaces
  • The body of a satellite needs to cope with fluctuating temperatures and extreme pressures. Materials used in today’s satellites include kevlar, often used in bullet proof vests!, and aluminium-alloys, on its own aluminium isn’t a strong material; however, when mixed with other metals, it becomes extremely reliable and strong but remains light weight!

Image courtesy of NASA

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The International Space Station (ISS) represents the construction of the world’s largest man-made satellite and sits in low Earth orbit. The programme is the vision of five space agencies working jointly: ESA (European Space Agency) NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) JAXA (Japan) Roscomos (Russia) CSA (Canada).

The ISS is the first of its kind! Operating as a microgravity and space environment, where research is carried out by the crew in areas such as biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and much more! Its crew of six are continually working on the maintenance and upkeep of the satellite.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • The ISS circles the Earth approximately 16 times a day, and travels at a whopping 17500mph!
  • Launched: Baiknour Cosmodrome
  • Launch date: 20 November 1998.
Life on the ISS

Image courtesy of NASA

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In October 1957, Russia announced it had placed the first man-made object in to low Earth orbit: Sputnik. Leaving the world wondering, what’s next?…

The objective of the launch was to put a radio transmitter into the Earth’s orbit. Sputnik had extremely basic capabilities by today’s standards, sending back a distinctive and intermittent beep and was the start of a series of man-made satellites that Russia lunched between 1957 and 1961. It weighed in at, 83 kilos and measured 59cm in diameter, was highly polished and carried four external antennas to transmit the radio pulses. Signalling the end of its life, its batteries failed after three weeks, burning up in our atmosphere as it fell back to Earth just over two months later.

FASINATING FACTS!

  • Launched: Baiknour Cosmodrome
  • Launch date: 4 October 1957
  • Lost contact: 26 October 1957
  • Decay date: 4 January 1958.

Image courtesy of NASA

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The first British satellite, marking the UK as the third country to launch a satellite into space. Built in both the UK and the US, after the US developed a programme to assist other nations to build satellites. Following its successful launch aboard the Thor-Delta rocket, it was the first successful international satellite.

During its time in orbit, Ariel completed six experiments, five of which were based around solar radiation.

Ariel 1 was among a number of satellites that were damaged as a result of a high-altitude nuclear test, Starfish Prime, and the resulting radiation belt caused by the blast. Although its life was due to end early, due to damaged caused by the blast, it continued to operate a year beyond its life expectancy.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Launch date: 26 April 1962
  • Launch rocket: Thor DM-19 Delta
  • Launch site: Cape Canaveral LC-17A
  • Decay date: 24 May 1976.

Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

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Not to be beaten, America was to celebrate success three months after Russia by launching its first satellite beginning the Cold War Space Race after Russia had lunched both Sputnik 1 and 2.

Explorer 1, was the first satellite to detect the Van Allen radiation belt, using its scientific payload, sending data back until its batteries ran out of power after nearly four months. It was the second satellite to carry a payload, Sputnik 2 being the first, helping scientists understand more about cosmic rays, paving the way for greater knowledge of the effect these have on us here on Earth. Explorer 1 has since been followed into orbit by more than 90 scientific Explorer spacecraft.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Launched: Cape Canaveral, LC-26A
  • Launch date: 1 February 1958
  • Lost contact: 23 May 1958
  • Decay date: 1 March 1970.

Image courtesy of NASA

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Project Echo was the first of a metalised balloon satellite experiment acting as a passive reflector for microwave signals, bouncing off them from one point on Earth to another.

The first attempt to launch the balloon was marred by the launch rocket’s, Thor-Delta, altitude control jets failing, resulting in the ill-fated payload landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Echo 1A, often referred to as Echo 1, successfully launched in August 1960, sending back the much awaited signal that all was well! It far surpassed its life expectancy, with initial estimates for it to last just beyond 1964…

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Launched: Cape Canaveral, AFS SLC-17A
  • Launch date:12 August 1960
  • Launch vehicle: Thor-Delta
  • Decay date: 24 May 1968.

Image courtesy of UnSplash

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Ever wonder how you receive some of your TV channels?!

Thanks to the development of Satcom, and its family of communication satellites, developed by organisation RCA Americom, the satellites broadcast US Cable TV through high-profile networks for the first time during the 70s. Satcom satellites were an early example of satellites known as geosynchronous satellites, they have the same orbital timeframe as Earth and rotate in synchronicity and therefore, remain in the exact same position in the sky.

The satellites support wide-area telecommunications by increasing the radio signals it receives from Earth and then returning them to receivers here on planet Earth.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Launch Vehicle: Delta 3000
  • Launch date: 13 December 1975.

Image courtesy of SEN

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Sen’s vision is to stream real-time videos from space to billions of people, providing unique perspectives of our ever-changing world and future in space, to help inform, educate and help people access unique data.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Sen deployed its first six video cameras ‘SkyRider Minis’ mounted on to a host satellite built by Rusian based, RSC Energia into Low Earth Orbit in early 2019, taking the world’s first 4k Ultra High Definition video from a satellite. Sen’s ambition is to develop deep space technology in the future to be hosted on rovers and drones to capture a range of perspectives in space.
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Image courtesy of OceanMind

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OceanMind’s vision is to support the enforcement and compliance to protect the world’s fisheries, through the use of satellite imagery and advanced technologies to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, enabling responsible fishing and the effective enforcement of laws protecting fish.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • OceanMind began in 2014 as “Project Eyes on the Seas”, a collaboration between the Satellite Applications Catapult and The Pew Charitable Trusts which incorporated projects employing the use of satellite data including the Blue Belt project, which used Automated Identification System (AIS and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery to help reduce illegal fishing.
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Image courtesy of Satellite Applications Catapult

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Satellite Application Catapult’s vision is to support connectivity to enable the growth of the satellite and space industry through funding to support research and development into the latest satellite technologies.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Satellite Applications Catapult, through expertise, facilities, technology and capabilities, support connections between brilliant ideas and those who need to access satellites, imagery and data to bring their ideas to life in areas such as intelligent transport, sustainable living, the blue economy and government services.
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Image courtesy of OSS

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Oxford Space Systems is finding new, easier to deploy solutions to deliver structures, previously huge and difficult to transport, into space. By developing these unique solutions, OSS is at the cutting edge of satellite deployment.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Working on some of the most innovative designs, OSS have deployed their OSS AstroTube boom: The world’s longest retractable cubesat boom; Unfurlable Antennas; Deployable Helical Antennas, Microstat Steerable Panels and Large Panel Arrays to name a few…
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Image courtesy of Astroscale

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Astroscale’s vision is to pioneer the removal of space debris from the Earth’s orbit. Since 2013, Astroscale has been working on some of the most technically advanced ways to ‘clean-up’ space.

FASCINATING FACTS!

  • Astroscale’s End-of-Life Service (ELSA) programme will operate a retrieval service for satellites that are no longer in use or working and may need repair. The aim is for new satellites being deployed to have a docking system installed in anticipation that when the satellite reaches the end of its life or becomes damaged/faulty it can be easily recovered.
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