What are satellites used for? (and why they matter)

Satellites play an increasingly important role in our world. Every person likely uses satellite-powered services – but many wouldn’t realise just how many of their daily interactions are supported by satellite signals.

In this article, we outline some of the key use cases of satellites today and how they affect people’s lives.

Different types of satellites

Earth Observation and Imagery

Satellites can provide an image of the surface of the Earth. Many organisations can use satellite imagery to gain intelligence, including military groups to critical national infrastructure.

Communication

Satellites can enable communication services on the ground. This includes two-way communications and one-way communications, from broadband to radio broadcasts.

Navigation

Positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites are each a form of navigational satellite. Using several satellites in a cluster, these systems can provide precise time and location information to users on the ground. Some systems may provide additional information such as altitude.

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Why are satellites important?

You’d be surprised by how much of our everyday lives are reliant on satellite signals. They permeate almost every sector, making people safer, our lives more efficient, and revolutionising the way our national infrastructure works.

Navigation

Timing signals are some of the most critical satellite functions. As one of the primary features of navigational satellites, they have real-time consequences and a widespread reach.

From everyday individual uses, such as searching for café recommendations “near me”, to complex systems, such as managing transport logistics, navigation is the backbone of many of society’s most critical services.

Communication

Communication services are growing in number and frequency. They are becoming increasingly integral across the world and sectors. IoT devices are being integrated into more organisations and more and more communications services are spreading beyond urbanised cities into more rural areas.

Communication services are growing in number and frequency. They are becoming increasingly integral across the world and sectors. IoT devices are being integrated into more organisations and more and more communications services are spreading beyond urbanised cities into more rural areas.

Satellite use cases

Banking – Banks use navigational satellites to manage and synchronise transactions of all types and authorise card activity.

Energy Networks – Energy networks use navigation satellites to organise power grids.

Transport – Trains use navigational satellites for signalling and autonomous vehicles require real-time location data.

Defence – Military organisations and defence need accurate, real-time guidance for weapons systems and aircraft, as well as detailed ground intelligence for their field agents.

TV – Communication satellites power scheduled TV programming as well as on-field reporting.

Civil – Emergency services, such as ambulances or firefighters, use navigation systems for vehicles transport.

Consumer – Many phone applications and search engines ask to use location information to improve their service.

Weather – Satellites can provide a large-scale view of weather conditions across the globe. Earth Observation satellites can also monitor environmental incidents for reasons of safety, emergency response, and policy.

Why satellite protection matters

Impacts on satellites can have significant impacts on the ground.

If the signal is lost, your service might be disrupted indefinitely. Or if the signal is spoofed or blocked, the integrity of your service is left compromised. In particular, any detriment to the quality of communications and navigation satellite service could be devastating.

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For example, incorrect location data from spoofing or a disrupted signal would prevent soldiers on the ground from being able to effectively navigate. This could be extremely dangerous and would put lives at risk. It could also cause significant disruption to shipping lanes and logistics, which has knock-on effects for many countries and applications.

Ultimately, the satellites that power these services could impact people’s lives, their safety, and the way our infrastructure runs on a daily basis.

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