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#21 Understanding Artificial Satellites

Artificial satellites are man-made objects launched using rockets. They are deliberately sent into space, where they orbit around Earth. The design, size and the altitude of an artificial satellite depends on the job it is designed for. Currently, there are over a thousand active artificial satellites orbiting Earth and performing different functions. Artificial satellites are used for various purposes like: Global Positioning System (GPS), map making, spying, collecting information for weather forecasts, communication and also for broadcasting television, radio programmes, relaying telephone calls and scientific surveys of Earth’s surface.

Different Types of Artificial Satellites

There are many kinds of artificial satellites, orbiting around the Earth.

Satellites, whose position remains at relatively the same spot on Earth, are known as Geostationary Satellites. They fly west to east at the exact speed of the orbit of the Earth. Polar orbits, on the other hand, travel in orbit from north to south to fill in the gaps that geostationary satellites cannot cover. Artificial satellites can be classified into different types such as: Communications, Weather, Earth Observation and Navigational satellites.

Image Courtesy: ESA


Communication Satellites: Communication satellites are artificial satellites stationed in space for a worldwide linkup of television, radio, phone etc. We all watch live matches, other sport events, news, and so on, that is taking place in some other part of the world on TV from the comfort of our homes. This has been made possible with the help of communications satellites. Telstar, launched in 1962, was the first active communication satellite. Today, there are many communication satellites. They fly in geostationary orbits, approximately 36,000 km above the Equator, so that they can broadcast over a large area. Communications satellites are very large and powerful.
Image Courtesy: ESA – P. Carril Navigation Satellites: Many years ago, people found their way by studying the position of the Sun, Stars and Moon. Then with the introduction of the compass,it became a lot easier for people to locate places. However, today it is almost impossible for anyone to lose their way around. Any car, aircraft, ship or person, fitted with a satellite navigation system can easily locate places within 15 to 20 metres. The navigation satellites help us calculate the exact location of a GPS receiver on Earth. The GPS system (Global Positioning System) was first developed mainly for a navigation system that the US military’s nuclear submarines could use to update their navigation system. 
Image Courtesy: Britt Griswold Weather Satellites: Weather satellites provide important information about cloud patterns as well asland and sea temperatures. They collect and share information with remote data-collecting stations such as weather buoys, and observatories around the world. All this information is send to a communications centre which then distributes it.
Image Courtesy: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory/SSAI Earth Observation Satellites: Earth Observation satellites are especially designed to observe Earth from orbit and are used for non-military uses such as monitoring the environment, meteorology and cartography. These satellites provide us with important information about our environment, oceans, snow cover etc. along with helping us monitor and protect the environment.



The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest artificial satellite; the main part of this satellite is as big as a five- bedroom house! Including the solar panels, it is as large as a football field.

Which was the first Indian artificial satellite to be launched into space? 

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  • Mrs. Gayatri Singh, 39 years


TEAM EXPLORE: The first artificial satellite launched by India was Aryabhata. Artificial satellites are man-made objects launched using rockets. They are deliberately sent into space, where they orbit around Earth.

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