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The 10-Year Satellite Forecast

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the bigger-is-better dept.

Space 73

coondoggie writes "When it comes to satellites sometimes less is more. In the next ten years the government expects to see fewer but ever larger satellites flung into space. Specifically, the folks who monitor such things, the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), said in a draft report today that an average 20.8 satellites could be launched from 2009 through 2018, a decrease of one satellite when compared to the 2008 forecast of 21.8 and the 2007 forecast of 21.0 satellites per year. Actual launches per year were above 20 for the first time since 2002 and the highest total since 2000, with 23 satellites launched in 2008. As for the weight, the group said there has been steady growth in satellite mass since 1993 and the trend will continues as satellite mass is expected to remain near or slightly above 100,000 kilograms (220,400 lbs) forecast for the coming years with an all-time high of nearly 116,500 kg (257,000lbs) in 2009, the COMSTAC report stated."

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Congestion (5, Insightful)

Smivs (1197859) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037777)

OK, I know there's a lot of room up there but surely some of the most desirable real estate (geosychronous orbits etc) must be getting a bit crowded by now. How long till someone realises we need to start removing some of the 'clutter' (old, defunct satellites) to make way for the new. Or do they assume that they will just fall to Earth, or drift off into space?

Re:Congestion (5, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037845)

Congestion in geosynchronous orbit is definitely a problem for bandwidth. Satellites rely on tight beams to save on frequencies. But as has been pointed out previously, space is big. Really, really big.

GSO has a radius of 42,164 km. And a circumference of 132479 km. So if you had a bird every 10km there would be space for 13247 of them, which sounds pretty good to me.

Re:Congestion (5, Informative)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038039)

Well, it's not so much about linear spacing as angular elbow-room. Considering the 1-dB beam width at 14 GHz [satsig.net] is around 0.7 degs, you could have ~500 orbital slots assuming they're all on the same frequency (no reusage). Still, you'd have some 500 km [google.com] for each, enabling you to can cram some more with the reusage thing-y.

Re:Congestion (0)

will_die (586523) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038085)

But that is for the whole globe, which is not needed or wanted. For instance there are probably very few GEO satellites over the poles.
So the real area available is over the highly prized area such as North America and Europe, so the area is alot smaller.

Re:Congestion (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28038205)

geo satellites orbit the equator.. you can't have one orbit the "poles."

Re:Congestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28038829)

They do not "Orbit" at all. That is the whole idea behind Geo(land) synchronous. They stay over a particular point (more or less_

Re:Congestion (1)

deraj123 (1225722) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038945)

I'm confused as to how they stay up there without orbiting...perhaps you could explain a bit better?

Re:Congestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28039965)

The earth rotates about its axis. They rotate with the earth.

Re:Congestion (1)

funaho (42567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28040223)

They orbit at a speed that matches how fast the earth is spinning, so from the ground they appear to hang at the same spot in the sky.

Re:Congestion (2, Informative)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 4 years ago | (#28039403)


Jebus. Of course they orbit. They just happen to have an orbital velocity that matches the rotational velocity of earth.

Re:Congestion (4, Informative)

Talisman (39902) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038971)

To further clarify this, there ARE polar orbit satellites, but, the problem is that while they are orbiting on a North-South trajectory, the Earth is spinning West-East. This makes it difficult for communications satellites because unless the orbit is perfectly synchronized with the Earth's rotation, which is difficult due to an irregularly shaped planet, axis tilt, elliptical orbits resulting in weird apogees, etc., then when the sat passes over, it's in a different spot every day. Geosynchronous orbit sats are always in the same spot spinning with the Earth at the same speed; very easy to tell your antenna to look at a fixed point in space.

So, the highly prized areas you are referring to are for communication satellites, and to a slightly lesser degree, television satellites.

North America and Europe are the two largest markets, but you're discounting Asia rather heavily.

To optimize the satellite's placement in relation to population density, you'll find sats towards the West side of the Atlantic, over the equator, serving the eastern seaboard of the U.S. along with the eastern part of South America and the Caribbean. Sats over the Atlantic towards the East will service western Europe and western Africa. Sats placed over the Indian ocean will service Southeast Asia, the Middle East, East Africa and western Australia. Sats over the Pacific will service East Asia (China, Japan) and the eastern seaboard of Australia, along with the west coasts of North and South America.

There is some overlap. For example, I can tune into AOR-W (Atlantic Ocean Region - West) or IOR (Indian Ocean Region) sats while I'm in the Mediterranean, but, I generally get the best reception on AOR-E due to it's location over the east Atlantic.

Polar orbit sats are still used, but they are not optimal due to most population centers in the world being near the equator, and you would need several sats in the same loop for 24/7 operation, as when your antenna tracked the satellite falling off the southern horizon, it would need another sat rising in the north to retune to.

This isn't a prob for the geosynch'd sats.

Re:Congestion (1)

jschloer (896182) | more than 4 years ago | (#28042927)

Geosynchronous isn't the same as geostationary. Geosynchronous just means the satellite passes over the same points on the earth at regular intervals, which includes satellites that orbit over the poles. Geostationary is when the satellite remains "stationary" with regards to a point on the surface of the planet.

Re:Congestion (1)

will_die (586523) | more than 4 years ago | (#28105663)

I may be mixing up current terms be it geostationary orbit or geosynchronous orbit, whatever the Clarke orbit is called.

Re:Congestion (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | more than 4 years ago | (#28040893)

IIRC, the current separation requirement is 2 degrees, allowing for 180 potential slots in GEO.

The 2 degrees is an allowance for the ground antennas, so they don't jam or pick up interference from, adjacent satellites.

Also, btw, "clutter" is removed from GEO. When a satellite nears the end-of-life, the last bit of hydrazine fuel is used to push it up into a higher orbit to avoid potential problems in the Clarke belt.

Maybe in the far off future archeologists will be able to examine these defunct satellites and gain an understanding of 20th century technology.

Re:Congestion (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037867)

This is a possible application of all the anti-satellite and anti-anti-satellite technology coming out of the U.S. and China as of late. Blow them up. Hell, why not?

Re:Congestion (5, Insightful)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038009)

This is a possible application of all the anti-satellite and anti-anti-satellite technology coming out of the U.S. and China as of late. Blow them up. Hell, why not?

Because then, instead of being a little congested with big debris that you can track and moves in a known path, you get a bunch of small debris, in erratic orbits, that you might not be able to track. Steering them into a higher orbit, or back into the atmosphere is much better.

Re:Congestion (4, Informative)

2Y9D57 (988210) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037893)

At end-of-life, geostationary satellites are moved into a higher orbit to make way for new ones.

Re:Congestion (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038239)

At end-of-life, geostationary satellites are moved into a higher orbit to make way for new ones.

This has only recently started to happen and doesn't cope with older satellites that are not designed to do this or satellites that malfunction.

Re:Congestion (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 4 years ago | (#28042197)

Except when they don't do that. It takes additional fuel to place a satellite into a higher parking orbit, fuel which could be used instead for a few more months of station keeping in the geostationary orbit. If a corporation is faced with a choice between a few more months of profitable operation OR being a good citizen then which do you think that they will choose?

Re:Congestion (3, Interesting)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037915)

AI was about to say that at roughly 264,000 km in length the geosynchronous orbit is not likely crowed, but I did my homework, and unbelievably in densely populated longitudes (yes Europe, I'm looking at you), there are disputes on orbit allocation [wikipedia.org]. Since a lot of satellites are operated by private companies and leased internationnaly, I guess the issue lies mostly with government agencies.

Re:Congestion (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037949)

Or do they assume that they will just fall to Earth, or drift off into space?

Actually, they do get rid of old satellites. These days many satellites are built with small rockets that are used to de-orbit them at the end of their useful life. Alternatively, they are boosted into a higher "graveyard" orbit.

Re:Congestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28038053)

They actually use internal rockets (which virtually all satellites have) to keep steady orbit. Orbit is influenced by gravity of other stellar objects (such as moon).
This is also the cause why smaller satellites have very short lifetimes. Larger satellites can carry more propellant to keep steady orbit.

Re:Congestion (2, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038719)

Now-a-days, operators are supposed to "deorbit" satellites. For geosynchronous satellites, that means boosting them up out of that orbit by a few 100 km, while for LEOs that generally means putting them into the atmosphere.

I thought that there was a formal requirement to do this, but this article [satnews.com] indicates that it is just an informal agreement :

There is a "gentlemens agreement" to either de-orbit the satellite when in low earth orbit, or raise it to a "graveyard" orbit some 300kms above the geo-synchronous orbit of most large communications and television broadcast satellites.

Re:Congestion (5, Interesting)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038147)

Generally they move them out of their parking slot once the propellent hits vapour and someone else moves right on in. The interesting thing is that there is no barrier to entry. For less than a thousand USD you can buy enough kit on ebay to run your own *ahem* pirate E1(2/3/4) and chances are you'll never get caught. The owners might not like it, but at worst they'll just run a CW spike up and down your energy lobe. It's not as though they can actually pinpoint where you are with any great accuracy.
In my previous life working for 'the man' (both military and as a civilian) I used to do technical signals analysis of pretty much anything in space that could radiate energy. Some interesting and crazy stuff out there. Imagine your bog standard E1 filled full of V.26 modems sending teletype - People aren't just keeping DOS around for stuff, they are also keeping their 1960's tech going strong as well, they modernize it a bit, but it's all still out there.

FDM's, the odd bit of morse code, but then there are TDMA systems all over the shop, those buggers are a bit harder to work with, I never met anything much more challenging than that though.

Re:Congestion (1)

NSN A392-99-964-5927 (1559367) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038503)

We know space debris is a big issue and adding more satellites is going to be a problem. The main issue here is grossly overlooked based on the existing "Cold War" of different Countries secretive space programs. That means one Country does not know what the others blueprints are and hence the United States gets pissed when China launches a satellite! It is only a matter of time before something seriously goes wrong... who knows Halley's Comet might knock a few out next time!

Re:Congestion (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#28040819)

Actually that is a standard part of U.S. spacecraft mission design. I would imagine that it is also a standard part of the design cycle for *most* space-capable countries. When we design orbital missions (GEO, LEO, MEO, whatever) the final stages of the mission design are to discuss and develop a legal and effective means at EOL (end of life) disposal. Depending on fuel remaining, cost of development, change in launch mass, etc etc etc, this involves either deorbit into a degrading, destructive Earth orbit, or jettison into a hyperbolic orbit to fling the spacecraft out into God-knows-where. The former option is the preferred option (for some orbits) since the spacecraft disintegrates upon reentry. Of course, these deorbit burns can and do take a long time, sometimes, since a minimum thrust impulse is desired (less fuel reserves have to be kept). This allows for the spacecraft to enter an orbit which, due to drag (usually during perigee), solar pressure, and a number of other factors will eventually force the spacecraft to reenter and destroy.

Also, most spacecraft designs (all in the U.S.) are held to some kind of design standard specification (whether it be military issued, or D.O.D. or whatever). These design specifications have very strict, very black and white specifications on how to deorbit, and what kind of fuel margins must be kept on board for the duration of mission life in order to allow either jettison or deorbit.

I hope this helped clarify.


Re:Congestion (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#28040827)

This is a good way to look at the big picture:

The pico satellites sound interesting (5, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037781)

It's interesting to see the trend of sizes of commercial and governmental satellites. The commercial sats are getting larger and outfitted with better hardware that can support more simultaneous users. The governmental sats are getting smaller and work in tandem to do their work.

Given that satellites can't last forever, I wonder which model pays off better in the long run. Does having many smaller satellites work better than having fewer larger sats? If so, could we find an optimal size or configuration of these small fries?

Or is having this many small things whizzing about going to cause trouble later on as we decide we need to add more birds to our skies? A few big birds are easier to spot and avoid than many little ones.

Re:The pico satellites sound interesting (2, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037799)

I suppose that there are two issues that governments look at. One large satellite could be knocked out accidentally by a collision with space debris. Probably at least as important one large satellite is going to be easier to knock out deliberately by a foreign power.

Re:The pico satellites sound interesting (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037997)

Commercial sat's are getting larger, but they are TINY compared to some of them up there from the 60,s and 70's are the size of city busses!

when they say "birds are getting larger" I laugh. Call me when they are as large as what they threw up there in the beginning days.

P.S. some of those monsters are still operational. I get B&W slow scan satellite imagery from some of the really old polar orbiting ones when I want to test my SSTV receivers.

Re:The pico satellites sound interesting (1)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038065)

As often, I think it depends it depends on what you are using them for. For standard geostationary communication satellites one big bird can replace several small. Government satellites often do something special and have a unique orbit.

Re:The pico satellites sound interesting (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038513)

The US and Russian governments will sometimes chuck a relatively short-lifed satellite in an orbit optimised to cove a particular trouble spot (e.g. Georgia during last year's invasion). I think they keep them in stock, and can launch at a couple of days notice. The multi-ton civil comsats are very different and take years of preparation.

Re:The pico satellites sound interesting (1)

joeljkp (254783) | more than 4 years ago | (#28057411)

They're doing different things, is the reason.

Most commercial sats these days are for broadcast, which need to be in GEO. It's no use putting something small into GEO, since it costs so much to get there anyway. They put something big that can last a while and serve a lot of customers (lots of transponders).

Government users (NASA and academic) are doing science, like remote sensing and atmospheric sampling and things. They don't care about having 100% coverage over the US, so they can put up tiny sats that fly over every few hours, or collections of 10s or 100s or small sats that can talk to each other.

This doesn't take into account spy sats of course, those apparently need to be both big and close.

They're different means to different ends, really.

I think someone screwed up the masses (3, Informative)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037813)

We don't put many 100,000kg mass payloads into orbit anymore... if we ever have. Unless the entire shuttle counts.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28037829)

Why don't you guys just say 100 megagrams?

Is there something wrong with the standard metric notation?

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28037855)

Yes, it's metric.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1)

mrsurb (1484303) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038115)

The kilogram is the standard (SI) unit [wikipedia.org] in the metric system, with the "mks" set (metres, kilograms, seconds) having replaced the previous "cgs" set (centimetres, grams, seconds) around the middle of last century.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28038699)

Which is just rediculous, what is wrong with:

meters grams seconds?

Look at that, no prefixes! That sounds standard to me, and we can just add prefixes where needed.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (4, Funny)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038405)

100,000 KG is about 97 Megagrams, or 100 Mebigrams. Damn marketing departments.. Everyone knows there are 1024 grams in a Kilo

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (5, Informative)

ahecht (567934) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037865)

That's the total mass for all satellites launched in a year, not a single payload.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037891)

I think they mean the total satellite mass, not just launched in a particular year.

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28037933)

ISS alone has 300 tonnes

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1)

MeisterVT (1309831) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038057)

Whew... for a second there I thought our satellites were getting just as obese as our citizens!

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1)

2Y9D57 (988210) | more than 4 years ago | (#28037875)

100 tonnes is the total mass - 20+ satellites each weighing less that 5 tonnes

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1)

Julien Brub (727173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038063)

Did anyone ever realized than putting some of the earth mass into space actually lighten the Earth? It could affect the actual orbit of the Earth!!!! 2012 is coming!!! ^_^

Re:I think someone screwed up the masses (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#28040261)

Putting mass off the Earth into orbit around the Earth does not change the orbit of the combined (Earth + satellite) system.

Am I the only one that doesn't get this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28038069)

How were 21.8 satellites launched in 2008? How do you launch eight tenths of a satellite?

A better satellite cloud? (1)

amn108 (1231606) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038231)

The satellites in our orbit resemble our software. We reinvent the wheel and create a new program for each small task every time we want something done, instead of spending time on some research and find out how to reuse what we have. Most capitalists call this competition, which is fine to an extent, I guess. It is the lack of balance in applying this strategy that is the problem. Competition or not, most existing sattelites/software can be scrapped as such and its task done by combination of other sattelites/software.

How about fusing the satellite functions into a smaller set of functions, like using 12 satellites with multiple functionality like very wide range spectrometers (sound, image, infra-red, ultra-violet, radio, etc) or a set of narrow purpose spectrometers so that instead of launching a new piece of hitech junk into space, the satellite operation time is outsources/leased out to those interested. Just like a cloud computer, we can have a satellite cloud. Ok, we can have several, since some countries are not on speaking terms, and/or value total autonomy, but we do not have to have 20 different variations of GPS-like supporting satellites out there now. I mean Google does not have to launch its own Earth-mapping sat just because it has the money to do so, it can instead invest on replacing lens/mirror/firmware on something already in orbit, although I may be eating my hat saying this, given how costly repairs in space are. Well anyways, if 10 bodies invest in a space-repair, it MAY be cheaper than to launch 10 sats.

Granted, satellite orbit space is getting crowded faster than namespace for software, but I think we can agree that also in software things are getting a bit out of hand.

Anyways, just an analogy.

But then again, maybe we are exaggerating this? Orbit space is pretty damn big, no?

Re:A better satellite cloud? (2, Informative)

KeatonMill (566621) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038873)

Think about logistics here. How expensive is it to launch a new comm or earth imaging satellite? Then, how expensive is it to launch HUMANS to the same altitude with repair tools and all of the consumables they require to get up and down safely.

When you add the fact that the tech up there is still advancing very rapidly, I don't think there's very much benefit in trying to create these super multi-purpose birds.

And when there is (like Hubble, whose time IS portioned out as you mentioned and a replacement costs ridiculous sums of money), repairs can and do happen.

Poorly worded (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#28038553)

Given that the Shuttle can launch 24 tons to LEO, and Arianne V 21 tons to LEO, one has to wonder how, if

the expected satellite mass is expected to remain near or slightly above 100,000 kilograms ,

these satellites will be launched ? Of course, no one is launching 100 metric ton satellites. That is presumably satellite mass launched per year.

Both the slashdot post and the original article seemed to have munged this totally.

Interesting (1)

tekshogun (1110191) | more than 4 years ago | (#28039423)

I never really though of it like that, interesting. Over the past many years that functional commercial, government, and other types of satellites have been put into orbit, there has been a huge network of underutilized satellites. That is, in the sense that many operational satellites are backups or can handle additional traffic within their bandwidth. The multi-GHz bands (such as the high L-band and Ku-Band up through Ka-Band) are inundated with lots and lots of satellites. As companies change services, fold, get acquired, or sell or lease their satellites, services can be changed easily instead of launching new satellites. However, many of these satellites too, are going out of service for various reasons. Some were rendered useless the day they were launched, lending to the piles of useless stuff up there. I do not believe that creating a few large satellites to cover many services is a great idea. Of course, it depends on who is controlling the satellites, but my concern is the vulnerability of fewer satellites.

Article Missed The Point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28039967)

The COMSTAC report linked in this article is the GSO (Geosynchronous Orbit) Forecast. Useful and available GSO slots are a scarce resource. Of course the trend will be toward fewer, more capable geosynchronous satellites.

Meanwhile, the smaller and cheaper satellites continue to make sense for low earth orbit (LEO) missions.

Without this distinction, the article pretty much misses the entire point.

the tide is changing (1)

evangellydonut (203778) | more than 4 years ago | (#28041587)

Most satellites are still simple "bent-pipe" kind, send data up in one frequency, translate, send it down in another frequency.

Boeing SDC (formerly Hughes Space and Comm) was (and probably still is) the leading company in DSP payloads and only one with the expertise to space qualify an IBM ASIC, but they have a broken business model and a hard time selling it to their customers. That and they have a very out-dated bus led to market deterioration over the years.

That aside, bigger satellites are just like bigger processors: it will become prohibitively expensive to develop and produce at some point. DARPA has been funding research in microsats with absolutely no redundancy and minimal radiation shielding, so you can build a Beowulf cluster with graceful degradation and a giant transmission relay (like TDRSS)

20.8 satellites? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28043247)

How do you launch four-fifths of a satellite? Or do you launch a whole one and the four-fifths is the fraction of the debris that stay in orbit after a collision?

DVB-S2 (1)

TheSync (5291) | more than 4 years ago | (#28044721)

The advanced FEC in DVB-S2 [wikipedia.org] has now allowed satellite transponder users to get about 10-20% more data through the satellite at the same downlink signal-to-noise ratio.

Thus many folks who have previously used DVB-S QPSK modulation are now moving to DVB-S2 8PSK modulation while retaining the same size dishes.

Of course, the other way to go is stay DVB-S2 QPSK but use smaller dishes...

Either way, DVB-S2 is making satellite transponder use more efficient, so perhaps this is marginally reducing the need for more satellites. There is a very slow move from MPEG-2 to H.264 encoding for video traffic, which is also marginally reducing the need for more satellites (actually there are a number of full-transponder analog video feeds that have not even gone to MPEG-2, but they are getting rare).

The other big force is that fiber is dominating most point-to-point applications, and satellite is being left for point-to-multipoint communications (over 100 receive sites, for example).

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