Low Earth Orbit Satellite Verses Geostationary Satellites… The Differences?

26 May 2008

With so much technology today using satellite communications the layperson has a tremendous task of understanding how each system works. Cell phones, television and GPS tracking systems can all work using a satellite system, but understanding the difference between Low Earth Orbit Satellite (LEO’s) and Geostationary Satellites (GEO’s) can help one determine which of the newest systems out there will benefit their needs.

Low Earth Orbit Satellites have been around since their inception in the 1950s. LEO satellite systems allow many personal communication devices such as cell phones to be able to have service without having to lay down wires or cables. The communication comes from satellites that orbit over 1200 miles above the earth’s surface. Because they are located so close to the earth’s surface, they don’t have to be extremely powerful to get the signal transmitted. The other nice thing is that LEO satellites are a simple type of satellite. This means that they are much cheaper to build then any other type of satellite. This is why many communication companies tend to use LEO satellites for their communication needs. Probably the biggest advantage to using LEO satellites is that when you have a device (whether it be a cellular phone or GPS tracking device) that uses this type of technology, they can get accurate communication. On the downside, if you do not have enough satellites to cover the surface of the earth, then the coverage area can be limited.

Geostationary satellites (GEOs) are another type of satellite system that many communication devices use. Basically these types of satellites are much bigger and sit much further up above the earth. They stay in one position over 22,000 miles above the earth’s surface and do their jobs. They do not move like the LEO satellite systems do. Geostationary Satellites are mostly used for things like weather forecasting, satellite radio and television and also GPS and cellular phones. Because GEO satellites have a much stronger signal then LEO’s and the satellites do not orbit, the signal for devices that use GEO technology is much better. No matter where you are in the world, you will get a signal. Probably the biggest problem with a geostationary satellite is sun outages. This usually occurs twice a year when the sun passes by the equator. When this occurs, the elevated temperature of the sun causes a high level noise signal to be transmitted to the receiving systems causing an outage of the signal. This means that there is generally no service over a short period of time. According to Satellite Technology the outages last about six day long. Each day there is duration of about 8 minutes where service is disrupted.

As you can see, satellite technology is relatively simple to understand. Making sure that your GPS tracking system is hooked into a satellite system will insure that you have a signal allowing the most accurate information possible. You will just have to decide if you want to purchase something that offers LEO or GEO satellite coverage.

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