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SATELLITES IN LOW –

AND MEDIUM – EARTH
ORBITS

Geostationary
satellites
are
very
important for communications but, as we
have seen, there are reasons to prefer
satellites with lower orbits. This is
especially true when satellites are used
with portable or mobile equipment; the
use of geostationary satellites requires a
high-gain antenna and relatively highpowered transmitters.

Two main problems with satellites in lower
orbits:
Their position in space is not fixed with respect to
a ground station
The annoying tendency of such satellite to
disappear below the horizon.

Another smaller problem is the Doppler effect,
which causes frequencies to change. Transmitted
frequencies are shifted higher as the satellite
approaches a point on the ground and lower as
the satellite recedes.

Satellite orbits are usually divided into three
ranges.
The Low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites from
about 300 to 1500 km above the earth. Mediumearth-orbit (MEO) satellites are about 8000 to
20000 km in altitude.

The gap between the LEO and MEO
orbits is there to avoid the lower of two
Van Allen radiation belts that surround
the earth; this radiation can damage
satellites. These radiation belts extend
from 1500 to 5000, and from 13000 to
20000 km above the earth’s surface.

SATELLITE TELEPHONE
SYSTEMS USING LEO AND
MEO SATELLITES

LEO satellite systems are very attractive,
especially for use with handheld portable phones.
The short distance to the satellite allows
transmitter power and antenna gain
requirements to be relaxed. This permits the use
of portable phones that are only somewhat larger
than a conventional cell phone. On the other
hand, such system requires many satellites (on
the order of 40 to 70) and a complex network.

Iridium
The Iridium system comprises 66 LEO satellites in
a complex constellation, such that at least one
satellite is visible from everywhere on earth at all
times. The satellites are cross-linked so that
telephone calls can transverse the network from
one satellite to another before being relayed to a
ground station.

Iridium used digital modulation, with a
combination of FDMA and TDMA to assign
channels. Because Iridium satellites are powerful
and close to the ground, portable phones are
usable with this system.

Globalstar
The Globalstar system began commercial
operation in 1999, and by February 2001 service
was available in more than 100 countries. This
system uses a constellation of forty-eight LEO
satellites (plus four spares) at an altitude of 1414
km. the satellite use simple “bent pipe”
transponders but have high power (about 1 KW
per satellite).

CDMA is used, allowing the ground user to access
two or more satellites simultaneously, provided
they are in view, and utilizes the soft handoff
techniques introduced for CDMA PCS services.
Because there is no switching on the satellites,
communications is possible only when at least
one satellite is visible simultaneously from the
mobile phone and a ground station. This will
require at least 38 ground stations, called
gateways, for worldwide coverage.

Teledesic
The Teledesic system, still under development, is
the most ambitious of the proposed LEO systems.
When operational it is expected to use 288
satellites plus spares, orbiting at an altitude of
1375 km. It is intended to be a high-speed data
service, designed more for fixed terminals in
homes and businesses than for mobile use. The
frequency band it uses is much higher than the
other LEO services: 28.6 to 29.1 GHz for uplink
and 18.8 to 19.3 GHz for the downlink.

The main application for Teledesic is expected to be
high-speed commercial data, in competition with fiber
optics, and for individual use, high-speed internet
access. Here Teledesic will have competition from
cable modems, telephone lines using ADSL, and
existing satellite access using geostationary satellites.
Standard terminals are expected to support data rates
form 16kb/s to 2.048 Mbps.

Little LEOs
In addition to the huge projects sometimes
referred to as “big LEOs”, there are a number of
more modest schemes, both existing and
proposed, that exist only to provide low-data-rate
digital services such as paging, short messaging,
and vehicle tracking for trucking companies.
These operations are called “little LEOs” because
the systems are simpler and smaller. It is not
necessary that there be a satellite in view of all
stations at all times for these services messages
can be stored briefly and forwarded when a
satellite becomes available. Here are some
examples of “little LEO” systems:

ORBCOMM
The ORBCOMM system went into
operation in 1998. It uses 35 LEO
satellites as of February 2001 and plans
to increase this to 48. The system is
used for short messaging, e-mail, and
vehicle tracking. Unlike the big LEOs,
little LEOs typically use frequencies in
the VHF range to communicate with
customer earth stations. ORBCOMM’s
uplink form mobile to satellite is at 148150.05 MHz, with downlink at 137-138
MHz.

LEO One
LEO one is a proposed “little LEO” system with a
similar structure to that of ORBCOMM. It will be
designed to use 48 satellites at an altitude of 950
km for paging and short messaging.

E-Sat
Is an interesting “special case” LEO system.
Using only six satellites, orbiting at an altitude of
1260 km, and using CDMA, it is intended to
concentrate on the niche market of remote meter
reading, especially in rural areas.

Systems Using Medium-Earth Orbit
Satellites
Satellites in medium Earth orbit are a
compromise between the LEO and GEO systems.
More satellites are needed than for GEO, but
fewer than for LEO. Delay and propagation loss
are much less than for GEO, but greater than
LEO. The main advantage of using MEO rather
than LEO satellites is financial. These systems
promise rates for airtime that are at least on the
same order of those for terrestrial cellular
systems, unlike LEO systems.

Ellipso
Ellipso uses an interesting combination of
elliptical and circular orbits. Its constellation is
based on the fact that there is far more land
mass and far greater population in high northern
latitudes than in similar southern latitudes. A
glance at any globe will confirm that most of the
world’s land mass is north of 40˚ south latitude.
The elliptical orbits have a maximum height
approximately 7800 km and a minimum height
approximately 520 km. The elliptical-orbit
satellites will have an orbital period of about 3
hours. These satellites can provide coverage
about 80% of the world’s population.

The main focus of the Ellipso system is expected
to be voice communication using portable and
mobile terminals that are projected to be roughly
the size of conventional cell phones but are likely
to be considerably larger. CDMA is used, with the
uplinks of all satellites receiving on the same
frequency bands. This allows use of the softhandoff feature of CDMA and avoids any
necessity for portable phones to switch
frequencies. The satellites will relay signals
directly to ground-station gateways, with no onsatellite processing or intersatellite links.

ICO (Intermediate Circular
Orbit)
The plan, initiated by Inmarsat but since
spun off and privatized, is to launch ten
operational satellites and two spares in two
orthogonal planes at an altitude of 10,355
km, each with 45˚ angle to the equator,
thus providing global coverage. Each
satellite would be able to support 4500
telephone calls using TDMA technology. The
satellites are to use bent-pipe configuration
. The frequency ranges are projected to be
similar to those for Ellipso, in the area of
1.6 GHz for satellite-to-mobile links.