On 16 December 2019, Kacific launched its first Ka-band HTS satellite, Kacific1, into geostationary orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The satellite became operational in early 2020.
But what is a geostationary orbit? It’s a grand phenomenon of physics, and where most satellites reside. The geostationary orbit (GEO) is where the vast majority of communications and television satellites have been since Telstar first carried TV signals in 1965 and direct-to-home satellite TV started in the 1980s.
In 1945, British science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke showed in the October 1945 issue of the Wireless World magazine that if a satellite is in a circular orbit 35,786 kilometres above the Earth’s surface(a radius of 42164km when you add the radius of the earth), in the plane of the equator, and travelling at 11,070 kilometres/hour in the same direction as the rotation of the earth, then it appears to us to be stationary (the “Geostationary” orbit). You have to move fast to stand still, apparently! A little bit faster, or further from Earth and centrifugal forces would take the satellite into an elliptical graveyard orbit and eventually into outer space. Too close or too slow and gravity will eventually pull it back to earth.
That eventuality is a problem; dead satellites and stray parts continue for many years to rotate at the same speed in the same orbit. NASA reports that more than 21,000 parts larger than 10 cm are known to exist, and 500,000 between 1 and 10 cm. All the satellites and debris are travelling in the same direction and the same speed, so destructive impacts that we see in movies are extremely rare.
The speed and distance of a satellite in the geostationary orbit apply whatever the mass of the satellite, even to a 1-centimetre fragment weighing a gram.Kacific1 is a Boeing (Hughes) type BSS-702 with a launch mass of 6.8 tonnes (the gross weight of a big six-wheel truck)but it still just stays there year after year, with occasional tweaks from Kacific Satellite Operations Control. Its orbital position is 150°East in the geostationary arc; that’s almost overhead Massau Island, Papua New Guinea. From there Kacific1 can provide its broadband internet services from Nepal right into the middle of the Pacific and New Zealand.
Geostationary advantages satellite in Geostationary Earth Orbit appears to be in a fixed location to someone on Earth, so the reception antenna does not have to track its movement. The is perfect for high-speed internet connection because:
Do satellites fall out of the sky? No, they don’t “fall”. At the end of a satellite’s life, the operator can command it to slow down, whereupon it drops out of its orbit. Some are boosted into outer space. Most de-commissioned satellites burn up as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. In some cases, a few parts can get through and land on earth, so the operator’s Plan B must be to bring them down, if they survive re-entry, over the far oceans or uninhabited land-mass.
On July 11, 1979, Skylab returned to Earth, burning up over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. Some large chunks survived re-entry, making landfall southeast of Perth and elsewhere. Nobody was hurt, but the Australian town of Esperance charged NASA $400 for littering. The media report from time-to-time on satellite re-entries. The 6.5-ton UARS climate satellite, launched in September 1991, studied Earth’s atmosphere for 14 years, was decommissioned by NASA in December 2005 and fell to Earth (with no reported damage) in September 2011. The European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite fell to Earth on Nov. 10, 2013, but met a fiery doom during re-entry as with China’s Tiangong space station on Oct. 13, 2019. An operational satellite has never fallen out of orbit by accident and they remain working and stable for 15 to 25 years.
Kacific –the Heart of Broadband
Kacific is delivering high-speed two-way internet to thousands of telcos, ISPs, other networks, and the end-consumers that they connect. The Kacific1 satellite is stable and happy in geostationary orbit and will be serving us all for 15 years or more.