When people speak of satellites today, they usually refer to man-made spacecraft placed into orbits and not natural satellites like the Moon. And, even though a lot of our tech relies on this spacecraft, there is still a lot of confusion regarding satellite uses and types – especially in modern schools. Space, however, may soon become a daily reality and even a common workplace. So, let’s take a look at some common satellite facts for kids that should help raise a new generation of astronauts.
Natural vs. man-made satellites
One of the first satellite facts everyone should be aware of is that there are plenty of natural satellites like our planet’s Moon. Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus – all of these planets have moons of their own. Mars has two satellites; Pluto – five; Neptune – 14, and Uranus – 27. If you think that’s a lot, here is another fun satellite fact – Jupiter and Saturn are the record holders, with 79 and 82 satellites, respectively. All of these bodies circle their planets just like our Moon circles the earth.
Now, what about comet facts? Can comets be considered satellites? The answer here is no because satellites accompany planets and have circular orbits. Comets are not circling around any planet; instead, they go around the sun. Besides, their orbits are not circular but elliptical. But one of the most interesting comet facts is that those can have tails. Perhaps, one of the most famous comets is Halley’s comet, which, for us, is visible every 75-76 years. And here are more Halley’s comet facts – the reason why it is so famous is that it got discovered a while back, in 1705. Today, this natural wonder still boasts the name of the astronomer who documented it – Edmond Halley.
And now that we have covered natural satellite facts, let’s move on to man-made spacecraft and their uses. After all, without these little devices in our planet’s orbits, our lives would be very different.
Artificial Space Satellite Facts & Uses
Today, thousands of satellites are circling the earth’s orbit. Almost three thousand of those are currently active, and even more than three thousand – defunct. So, our planet’s orbit is getting a little ‘littery,’ but the good news is that space junk removal is just around the corner. However, let’s leave the dead satellites behind for now and see what active ones can do for us.
All maps today are based on satellite imagery. We get precise pictures of earth from space, allowing us to navigate as we drive a car or even sail a yacht. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is the most common navigation tool today. However, GPS is not the only available navigation system, even though everyone is aware of this term today. GPS is a US system, and all data in it is transferred by the US spacecraft (of which there are over a thousand in the orbit). Russia has a similar navigation system – GLONASS and Europe has EGNOS. The latter is compatible with GPS, meaning it makes use of GPS data when its own information is insufficient.
Besides, Europe is now working on a new sat navigation system – Galileo, which should be fully under civilian control. In contrast to that, EGNOS can be used in a variety of areas, not just civilian ones. But why won’t Europe just use an already existing GPS navigation system? Mostly because the information is the most valuable thing today. All transport – from planes to ships – relies on navigation, so if the signal is lost, a lot of operations will be affected by it. So, another navigation network would benefit all, especially given that Galileo, just like EGNOS, will be interoperable with existing GPS.
Weather & Environment
Absolutely all weather forecasts today get data from space. Important as it may seem, environmental tracking is even more vital. It can help scientists quickly react to any natural disasters, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires. Understanding the scale of such natural phenomenons helps us come with a timely solution, minimizing their potential damage to people, their housing, and wildlife.
Earth-observing sats (EOS) help researchers analyze man-made impact on our planet. It keeps us up-to-date on glacier melting, wildlife species on the brink of extinction, etc. As a result, these data help us react to any challenges, keeping our home planet safe.
Besides, data from EOS devices helps us raise crops. Farmers can get yield forecasts and see detailed pictures of their fields. Spacecraft data helps determine the location of mineral sources, measure land and water temperature, and more. Without this info, commercial agriculture would not be as efficient as it is today.
Mobile and internet connection also rely on satellite data today. Now, when there are plenty of communication satellites in orbit, we hardly ever experience any connectivity failures – not in the cities, at least. Of course, there are still remote areas where communication is more challenging. However, major aerospace companies are already working on that, creating entire constellations of satellites to ensure uninterrupted internet access in remote areas. And here is another fun satellite fact – in 1998, when there were fewer satellites in orbit, around 80% of pagers in the US were silenced because of a satellite failure. Today, failures would shut down our mobile phones.
Of course, one of the primary satellite uses is space exploration. Sure, there are fewer satellite telescopes than communication devices, but the pictures obtained with sat telescopes offer us invaluable insight into the universe we live in. That’s how we discovered many natural satellites, previously unknown to us, received data about atmospheric conditions on other planets, and have gotten a better look at the stars above us. With a traditional, land-based telescope, none of these data would be accessible to humanity.
This is just a brief overview of satellite uses. In practice, satellite value goes beyond this list as most daily operations – from watching a TV show to paying with a credit card relies on satellite data. Which of these satellite facts were new to you?
- Everything you need to know about natural and artificial satellites - March 11, 2021