Low-Earth Orbit Satellites: Risk and Reward

September 9, 2020

The race is on. Can you feel it? Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are igniting a new space race. Companies across the globe are aggressively making moves to launch LEO satellites to join the nearly 2,700 satellites currently in low orbit. In fact, SpaceNews reports the FCC “has already agreed to license more than 10,000” LEO satellites—and more are on the way. With a high volume of satellites orbiting closer to the earth, comes both risk and reward.

In 1978, NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler theorized that a high volume of satellites in low orbit can collide with each other. Once a collision occurs, space debris from the initial collision trigger subsequent collisions, thereby creating a never-ending cascade of crashes. After all, there’s less physical space in low orbit, which ranges from 100 to 2,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface than geosynchronous orbit—a designation reached at 35,786 kilometers above the earth.

But there are more concerns. What’s the increased risk associated with satellites traveling at higher speeds? A satellite in low orbit travels at a remarkable 27,000 kilometers per hour. Traditional geosynchronous, on the other hand, typically travels around 11,000 kilometers per hour to avoid the gravitational pull back to earth. When you have more objects traveling at significantly higher speeds in a smaller area, you’re bound to encounter more risks.

Plus, there’s still the risk of getting the satellite into orbit. How do you ensure your satellite will have a successful launch? How do you ensure that your satellite will perform as intended once in orbit? Companies operating in the space sector have been asking these questions. After all, safety is of paramount importance.

Despite the risks associated with LEO satellites, a seismic shift to these types of satellites is imminent—and necessary. LEO satellites, which can operate as low 311 miles above the earth, represent a lower cost option with a remarkably low latency compared to geostationary satellites. As you prepare to launch your satellite, you have options for helping you mitigate risk.

LEO Satellite Testing to Mitigate Risk

With 28 labs in North America—and the world’s top satellite testing experts on staff—NTS can provide you with everything you need to mitigate risk. From vibration testing in a Class100K Clean Room to robust space simulation in a giant thermal vacuum, you get to work side-by-side with the world’s top testing experts.

As you already know, NTS has participated in every major space program since the inception of manned space exploration. Plus, NASA just awarded NTS with its coveted supplier award. As a result, you can feel confident that we have the experience, expertise, and infrastructure to support the most complex space testing.

Contact us today—and let us help you get your satellite into orbit.

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