Communication Satellites: Advances in ICT Revolution, by Professor MK Othman



My readers, please, refer to the concluding part of my 4-series article titled

“Apollo 11: What next After 50 Years of Man’s Terrestrial Romance with
Space?” published between August and September in this Column. Somewhere
in that article, I wrote “On launching satellite for communication, this column
will feature several breakthroughs made in communication satellites another
time”. I think the time has come to fulfill that pledge. The outcomes of the
satellite technology are positively affecting all facets of human developments
in what we call “global village”. An enormous thanks to “Information and

Communication Technology (ICT)”. I am sure it may interest many to know the

antecedents and advances in the ICT revolution in today’s world. Although,
this subject is highly technical, sometimes incomprehensive and boring to
people who are not scientifically grounded care will be taken to simplify the
technical jargon of the ICT gurus for the benefits of others.
One of the most amazing natural creations in the planetary world is space, a region
beyond the earth’s atmosphere or even beyond the solar system. Some of the
contents of the space, billions of kilometers away from the earth are seen with
naked eyes while millions of others are seen with the aid of telescopes and yet
several others in billions are never seen. The wonders of nature, the
Omnipotent perfect creation of the universe. Mysteries surrounding the space
and its contents motivated the development of space science that gave birth to
space technology. Today, Space technology is referred to as an aerospace
industry for use in spaceflight, satellites, or space exploration. It is in this
space a huge man-made structure called ‘satellite’ or spacecraft is placed and
operated by mankind and for the benefit of mankind. A satellite is an object in
space that moves around a bigger object. In space, there are two types of
satellites: natural, as in the case of moon orbiting the Earth and artificial as in
case of International Space Station orbiting the Earth. Before sixty years ago,
nobody was thinking of artificial satellites in space until in the year, 1957.
Historically, Russia was the first country to send artificial satellite into space.
The satellite was a beach-ball-size probe nicknamed “Sputnik”. Sputnik was
launched on Oct. 4th, 1957. The launching of Sputnik shocked the world
especially the developed countries, as it was believed then that Russia was not
technologically capable of sending satellites into space. The Sputnik launch sent
a shockwave through the American public, who believed they were more
scientifically superior compared to the other countries especially Russia, which
then the Soviet Union. This was in addition to the American economic boom amid a
post-war. With a single shot of Sputnik into space, the Soviet Union not only
launched the first artificial satellite but also officially inaugurated what was
then termed a " space race" with the United States. The space race was a
series of competitive technology demonstrations between the United States
and the Soviet Union, aiming to show superiority in spaceflight. It was an
outgrowth of the mid-20th-century Cold War, a tense global conflict that
pitted the ideologies of capitalism and communism against one another.
Consequently, the Russian satellite launch made the American public reflected the
echoes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War,
sixteen years earlier. Americans felt that the Soviets were behind the U.S.
technologically after the devastation of World War II, so the successful
satellite launching by Russia means a lot to Americans. Being a period of fear
and anxiety, could Soviet Unions launch ballistic missiles armed with nuclear
weapons at the United States through Satellite? Space race heightened the
intensity of the cold war. Well, the cold war came and gone without casualties,
the world continued to enjoy the unlimited benefits of satellite technology.
Now, what are the breakthroughs in communication satellites?
Every man-made satellite consists of four main parts; a power system or prime
mover, which could be solar or nuclear source, a means of controlling its
altitude, an antenna to transmit and receive information, and a payload such as
a camera or a particle detector to collect information. With these components,
satellites function effectively over a long period from months to years
uninterrupted. Broadly, satellites are used functionally for improved weather
forecasts for large areas on earth, land watching to track series of changes in
forests, water and other parts of Earth's surface over time and communication
services. As discussed in my previous articles, satellites are basically
classified into three categories depending on their distance from the earth’s
surface. There are Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites with a range of distance
between 160 to 2,000km from the earth surface, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)
satellites with a distance between 2,000 to 35,000Km and Geostationary Orbit
(GEO) satellites with a distance over 35,000 km from the earth’s surface. GEO
satellites are seen to be stationary because their movement is the same
relative to the earth’s rotation. They revolve around the earth at 360 o in every
24 hours.
In the last five centuries, amongst all the modern advancements, space
technology has been the most impactful on humanity with trillion of US Dollars
investment. In all aspects of space technology, the communication satellite has
probably had more effect on the average person than the rest. Satellite
communications is truly the only commercial space technology that generates
billions of dollars annually in sales of products and services all over the world.
There are three types of communication services that satellites provide:
telecommunications, broadcasting, and data communications. Telecommunication
services include telephone calls and services provided to telephone companies,
as well as wireless, mobile, and cellular network providers. What is the historical
antecedent of using satellite for communication services?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica (
communication/Satellite-applications), the world's first active communications
satellite, Telstar 1, was launched in 1962. Telesat’s predecessors at AT& T
and Bell Laboratories built the satellite. During its seven months in
operation, Telstar 1 dazzled the world with live images of sports,
entertainment, and news. It was a simple single-transponder low-earth-orbit
(LEO) satellite, but its technology of receiving radio signals from the earth’s
surface, and then amplified and retransmitted the signals over a large
portion of the earth's surface, set the standard for all communications
satellites that followed. As discussed in this column, within decades between
the 1960s and 1970s, advances in satellite performance came quickly and a
global industry began to develop. Satellites were mainly used at first for
international and long-distanced telephone traffic and distribution of select
television programming, both internationally and domestically. In 1973 the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation began distributing its video programming
to Canadian customers using Telesat’s Anik A satellite. Then in 1975 HBO
began distributing its video programming to US customers by satellite. The
commercial and technical success of these ventures led to a greater use and
acceptance of satellite broadcasting. By the 1990s, satellite communications
became the primary means of distributing TV programs around the world.
In a relatively short span of time, satellite technology has developed from the
experimental with Sputnik in 1957 to the sophisticated and powerful
technology applicable in all aspects of human endeavors. Future communication
satellites will have more onboard processing capabilities, more power, and
larger-aperture antennas that will enable satellites to handle more bandwidth.
It is likely to have further improvements in satellites’ propulsion and
power systems will increase their service life to 20–30 years from the
current 10–15 years. In addition, other technical innovations such as low-cost
reusable launch vehicles are in development. With increasing video, voice, and
data traffic requiring larger amounts of bandwidth, there is no dearth of
emerging applications that will drive demand for the satellite services in the
years to come. The demand for more bandwidth, coupled with the continuous
innovation and development of satellite technology, will ensure the long-term
viability of the commercial satellite industry well into the 21st century.
In the next few years, there will more people in the world needing
communication services at a cheaper rate and higher speed, in real-time. The
scientists working tirelessly will come out with more advancement in
communication satellites to meet the demands of the teeming world
population. Nigeria, as a nation, should key into this technological breakthrough
for the benefits of Nigerian and indeed the entire African continent.


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