Satellites need to be adequately placed in the corresponding orbit once it leaves for space. This way, it will revolve in a particular direction and serve its commercial, military, or scientific purposes. The orbits assigned to such machines that are closest to the Earth are known as Earth Orbits. The technological devices that are deployed to these orbits are known as LEO satellites.

Imagined constellation of LEO satellites around Earth
Imagined constellation of LEO satellites around Earth | Source:

What is a LEO Satellite?

A LEO satellite, or Low Earth Orbit satellite, is typically placed between 500 and 2,000 km. These devices have a limited Field of View (FoV). Hence, you need a high number of them for complete Earth coverage. Unlike GEO devices that are stationary, LEO ones, at altitudes of 1,000-km, can maintain an orbital velocity of 7.3Km/s.

It means that you need at least two or three antennas on the ground for change-over and tracking. However, because of the reduced gain requirement, these antennas are smaller than GEO antennas. At most, the diameter needs to be 2.4 m and can utilize both Ku and Ka bands.

For the sake of comparison, most airplanes do not fly at altitudes more than 14-km. This means that the lowest LEO satellite is placed approximately ten times higher than that. LEO devices also do not revolve around the Earth in a particular way – unlike GEO ones. Since their plane can be tilted, there are more available routes for the LEO technology.

LEO satellite applications: Demands and responsibilities

Since CubeSat has advanced the industry within the last two decades, the entire space market has grown significantly. Because of this commercialization, there has been an increase in the demand for LEO orbit satellite applications.

Costs of launching technology to space
Costs of launching technology to space | Source:

As mentioned above, a low orbit satellite can operate between 200 and 2,000 km from Earth’s surface. Traditional technology for communications is placed much higher in the geostationary orbit at approximately 36,500 km. Since these devices are much smaller than traditional ones, a new mindset has developed and aims to concentrate on scale, capability, and cost. According to experts, you have to rapidly get up there, meet the requirements, and replenish the constellation when needed.

Thanks to their small sizes, these machines are very compact and can be used for many different tasks that conventional equipment cannot do. This means that they are suitable for various industrial applications. Some examples include:

  • Communication
  • Earth observation
  • Logistics and geo-location
  • Signal monitoring
  • Scientific missions

These devices have to be able to communicate with Earth-based stations with utmost efficiency. LEO satellites can be used for a variety of communication applications. These machines are mostly used for data communication, human space flight, and remote sensing.

LEO satellite uses

Geostationary satellites (GEO) have been in use for more than a few decades, providing connectivity even to rural and remote regions. However, innovations like LEO satellites shake the GEO industry, thanks to advantages like low latency and diverse applications. There are a lot of different uses of LEO machines, some of which include:

  • As communication devices, some communication systems like Iridium phone systems utilize the services of LEO.
  • Earth monitoring satellites use LEO because they can view the surface of the Earth with more clarity. They are also a better choice to transverse the surface of the Earth.
  • The International Space Station (ISS) is located in LEO between 320 and 400 km above the Earth. In fact, you can see it without the aid of a telescope.
LEO Satellite orbiting around Earth
LEO Satellite orbiting around Earth | Source:

What Are The Opportunities Available For Mobile Service Providers?

Today, the world is mostly cloud-based and data driven. Hence, there is an increasing demand for moving large quantities of data securely and quickly from one part of the globe to another. With these developments in mind, LEO satellites are now focusing on providing better data services.

  • The focus on growth for mobile operators and providers has initially been marked at growing the coverage and addressable market size.
  • Also, new services are being introduced continuously to increase revenue and usage per subscriber.
  • Incremental services have also been developed.

Applications of LEO satellites

LEO technology is mostly used for mobile communication. Commercial users or enterprises, defense and military personnel, and people who travel abroad or operate in places that are far from cellular coverage make use of the LEO satellite applications.

1.   Remote Industrial Business

LEO devices are capable of providing services to remote areas that are far from terrestrial coverage. Hence, individuals from fields like oil and gas, mining, and forestry use LEO satellite services. Some services include connectivity to the Internet, voice communication, and even tracking and monitoring hardware and equipment.

2.   Defense Customers and Government

As mentioned above, LEO satellites can provide network coverage that cellular networks cannot reach. They can also be deployed easily and quickly. Hence, commercial companies provide different mobile satellite solutions to Government officials like Defense individuals. Some of these services include voice and data solutions and high-speed connectivity terminals.

3.   Emergency Response

Communication infrastructure may get damaged during a natural disaster like earthquakes and hurricanes. Because of such services’ ubiquitous nature, disaster and recovery teams often use them to coordinate recovery and rescue efforts. Most of the time, satellite voice and data services may be the only services available at hand.

4.   Recreational Customers

For individuals that like to sail, ride, or walk to far-off destinations and terrestrial coverage, LEO satellites provide an array of voice and data services. These services can also be used to track, communicate, or locate individuals or notify the authorities if there is an unexpected surprise.

Advantages and disadvantages of LEO satellites

The low altitude of the LEO technology is perfect for imaging and communication. Due to the low altitude, communication signals do not require a lot of power. Additionally, the time needed for the signal to travel to-and-from the satellite to the Earth station is less.

Additionally, imaging satellites will also be able to capture better and more detailed pictures. LEO satellites are very easy to build, and the overall cost of building one is less than its counterparts in higher orbits. These devices are often used for collecting small amounts of data and other similar experiments.

On the other hand, LEO satellites also have their share of disadvantages. Because of the ease of launch and the growing popularity of these satellites, there is an increasing space debris issue. In fact, space agencies often have to use layers of shields to protect from the debris. These devices also have to deal with atmospheric drag. Additionally, a typical LEO satellite has a much lower lifespan than GEO machines.