How Does a Satellite Work? The Basics Explained

The first ever man-made satellite was Sputnik. It weighed nearly two-hundred pounds and measured less than 2 feet across.

Despite its humble nature, Sputnik would only be the first of many satellites launched. It paved a legacy that would continue through the Space Race, and beyond.

The satellites mankind has launched since then are far more complex, and carry out any number of functions. Some of them are responsible for the streaming services we love so much. Others help us navigate the confusing lattice of roads that wind through our towns.

How does a satellite work, though? How can they function in so many different ways? We’ll talk about that in this article.

How Do Satellites Stay Up?

The simple answer to this question is gravity. We’re all aware that gravity is the force that pulls us down to Earth. According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object with no force other than gravity acting on it will fall down to Earth, or whatever object is causing the gravity.

Gravity is one of two forces at work when a satellite is in orbit. The other is known as centrifugal force.

Centrifugal force is what happens when an object is in orbit. If you’ve ever spun a yoyo around your head, you’ve seen centrifugal force in action. If you let go of the yoyo, it flies off in the direction it was headed when you let go.

The same idea works for satellites. The orbit of an object generates centrifugal force, which is constantly pushing the object outward towards space. Gravity acts as centripetal force, which is pulling the object inward towards Earth.

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When launching a satellite, scientists first calculate the force of gravity, and the force of the satellite wanting to move further out into space. If these two forces are equal, the object stays in place.

Why Don’t Satellites Hit Each Other?

The truth is that satellites sometimes do hit each other. The only reason it doesn’t happen often is because calculations are done to make sure the satellite is launched at a time and place where it’s not likely to hit other satellites.

It has been known to happen once or twice. Usually, the satellites get damaged or destroyed and the pieces fall to Earth. They may also take down certain systems, such as GPS, if they hit another satellite.

Satellites can perform so many important functions by essentially acting as a giant mirror. Needed data, such as TV programming, internet signals, banking information, and many other things, are sent up to the satellite, which then sends that same signal down to various locations on Earth.

There are a lot of different kinds of satellites sending many different kinds of data. You can get an introduction to one type of satellite by clicking the link.

How Does a Satellite Work: A Guide

Satellites are a very complex topic. How does a satellite work?

You’d need a physicist or a mathematician to get into a lot of detail. We’ve explained what we could in this article, but there’s a lot we couldn’t cover. It may be best to do more research on your own.

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