There are many different types of satellites. They are classified by their function to do a specific job, writes Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO of Q-Kom.

The satellite must be designed specifically to fulfil its role.

The following are a few examples of different types of satellites:

* Astronomy – used to collect data from earth orbit.

* Communication – for television, telephone, radio, and military communication.

* Weather – monitor the weather and climate of the Earth.

* Navigation – navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver.

With new satellite launches making the news on a regular basis, more people are becoming aware of the advantages that communications satellites offer.

World’s first communications satellite

On 18 December 1958, the world’s first communications satellite was launched. Weighing 3 980kg – Project Score (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), the satellite consisted of two UHF transmitters, two tape recorders, and two Minitrack beacons.

The project demonstrated the feasibility of transmitting messages through the upper atmosphere from one ground station to one or more ground stations.

The result of the project, which used both realtime and store and forward techniques, was a major scientific breakthrough which proved that active communications satellites could provide a means of transmitting messages from one point to any other on Earth.

On 22 July 2018, 60 years later, Telstar 19 Vantage (the world’s heaviest communication satellite, weighing 7076 kg, almost double the weight of Project Score) was launched.

It is part of a new generation of satellites that combine broad regional beams and powerful high throughput satellite spot beams in a design optimised to serve Ku and KA bands.

Telstar 19V is expected to have a life span of 15 years, a huge difference compared to its predecessor which lasted merely 12 days due to its batteries running out.

The advantages of satellite communication

It offers superior performance. Satellite communication is ideal for two-way IP networks due to the speed, uniformity and end-to-end control of today’s advanced satellite solutions. This has resulted in greater use of satellite by corporations, governments and consumers.

Satellites offer instant infrastructure. All it takes is ground-based equipment which can be connected within hours. This is valuable for commercial, government and emergency relief communications.

They are also versatile. They effectively support all forms of communications ranging from simple point-of-sale validation to bandwidth intensive multimedia applications. Satellite solutions are highly flexible and can operate independently or as part of a larger network.

Cost-effectiveness is another advantage. Whether crossing continents or communicating locally, satellite cost remains the same. The cost does not increase if the number of users or receive sites, increase.

Satellite has global availability. All land masses are covered and there is a growing capacity to serve maritime and aeronautical markets. Rural and remote regions around the world are increasingly relying on satellite communications.

The future of satellite communication

Satellite communications will be an essential part of the 5G infrastructure. Satellite transport will be integrated into the overall available communication map, so service providers will need to provide seamless connectivity between terrestrial and satellite.

Traffic will be steered to the best transport options available according to bandwidth, latency, network conditions, and other application-specific requirements.

Analysts estimate 2020 for 5G; 2030 for 6G; and 2040 for 7G satellite communication. Science advances further and further as time goes by – so perhaps 6G and 7G will appear sooner than we think.

The future is unpredictable but, as the world continues to globalise, the need for efficient wireless interlinks through satellite and terrestrial wireless communication will expand. The increased usage of space systems (planetary, manned, and unmanned bodies) will give rise to the need for enhanced space communication systems.

There was a race to get to space, and only time will tell who will win the race with 5G, 6G, and 7G satellite communications in the future.