Faster than Fiber: Advantages and Challenges of Leo Communications Satellite Systems
Campanella, S. Joseph
Kirkwood, Timothy J.
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Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communications satellite systems are emerging as attractive alternatives to the Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) systems. GEO satellites have largely dominated the commercial and government communications satellite systems for telecommunications services since the early 1960's. A principal driver behind the move to LEO satellites is the competition to long propagation delay geostationary orbit satellite systems created by rapid expansion of short propagation delay terrestrial land and undersea fiber optic cable links for national and global connectivity. Communication paths over LEO satellites can have shorter propagation delay than terrestrial fiber. This because the speed of electromagnetic wave propagation via LEO satellites is 50% greater than that of light in fiber optic cable. This fact eliminates the long propagation delay property that has become synonymous with GEO communications satellite system. Other drivers are the use of small portable and hand-held earth terminals and the promise of low launch cost of small satellites to low earth orbits. The paper expands on the properties that promise to make LEO communications satellite systems the choice of the future.