Regimental Division,
Office Chief of Signal

United States Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, GA
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Cartoon satellite Cartoon satellite terminal Satellites, pictured at far left, need satellite terminals, pictured on the right, to send them signals. Soldiers move mobile satellite terminals anywhere in the world, and work on big terminals at the forts where the soldiers live.

How satellites work

Communications satellites are spacecraft that beam radio signals around the world. Satellites are located all around the earth. Some fly as low as 200 miles above the earth’s surface. Some satellites are as high as 22,300 miles above the earth. The higher the satellite is, the more area on the earth it can cover.

Have you used a satellite today? You probably did and didn’t even know it! Signals come from telephone calls, television programs and information sent and received from computers.

All kinds of information can be changed into radio signals and sent anywhere on earth at the speed of light (that’s fast!) in just a fraction of a second. One satellite can handle thousands of telephone calls! The satellite must have electricity to work, so they have large panels that gather power from the sun and convert it into electricity.

Radio signals are sent from earth from huge dish-shaped antennas up to a satellite orbiting around the earth. When the signal gets there, it’s very weak because it’s traveled a LONG way. The satellite has special equipment on board to make the signal stronger. After the signal is strengthened, the satellite sends the signal back down to the earth, where it is received by another large antenna.

Think of what happens when you turn on a flashlight. When you point the beam of light at a flat surface, the light gets more focused if you get closer and gets wider as you get further away. This is kind of like a satellite beam. The signals sent back to earth from the satellite are like lightbeams from the flashlight.

When the radio beams come back to earth, another dish-shaped antenna receives and strengthens the returning signal by collecting the signal over the large dish area, and then bringing the radio beams together in one small spot where the receiver is located.

The strengthened signal is then carried from the antenna by cable to a ground station, where it is sent out over land systems like the telephone company to be received by you!

Text by Debbie Linton. Ms. Linton works for Information Technology and Applications Corporation’s Fort Gordon, Ga., branch, as contract support to the military satellite communications project manager and Training and Doctrine Command’s satellite communications systems manager. She’s a retired Signal Corps major who began her career as an Army air-traffic controller and completed it as an Army satellite communications architect. She has continued her satellite architectural work as a civilian and is author of the Army’s satellite communications architecture book.

Satellite footprint
Click above to see how a satellite beams signals to the earth's surface.

Satellite to earth station
Click above to see how signals are bounced from satellite to earth station.

Satellite in telephone call
Click above to see how satellites are used in a telephone call.

Last modified on:
April 04, 2012

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