Satellite Constellation
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Satellite Constellation
The GPS constellation calls for 24 satellites to be distributed equally among six orbital planes

A satellite constellation is a group of artificial satellites working together as a system. Unlike a single satellite, a constellation can provide permanent global or near-global coverage, such that at any time everywhere on Earth at least one satellite is visible. Satellites are typically placed in sets of complementary orbital planes and connect to globally distributed ground stations. They may also use inter-satellite communication.

Satellite constellations should not be confused with satellite clusters, which are groups of satellites moving very close together in almost identical orbits (see satellite formation flying), satellite programs (such as Landsat), which are generations of satellites launched in succession, and satellite fleets, which are groups of satellites from the same manufacturer or operator that function independently from each other (not as a system).


A bright artificial satellite flare is visible above the VLT. Satellite constellations have an impact on ground-based astronomy.[1]

Low Earth orbiting satellites (LEOs) are often deployed in satellite constellations, because the coverage area provided by a single LEO satellite only covers a small area that moves as the satellite travels at the high angular velocity needed to maintain its orbit. Many LEO satellites are needed to maintain continuous coverage over an area. This contrasts with geostationary satellites, where a single satellite, moving at the same angular velocity as the rotation of the Earth's surface, provides permanent coverage over a large area.

Examples of satellite constellations include the Global Positioning System (GPS), Galileo and GLONASS constellations for navigation and geodesy, the Iridium and Globalstar satellite telephony services, the Disaster Monitoring Constellation and RapidEye for remote sensing, the Orbcomm messaging service, Russian elliptic orbit Molniya and Tundra constellations, the large-scale Teledesic, Skybridge, and Celestri broadband constellation proposals of the 1990s, and more recent systems such as O3b or the OneWeb proposal.

For applications which benefit from low-latency communications, LEO satellite constellations provide an advantage over a geostationary satellite, where minimum theoretical latency from ground to satellite is about 125 milliseconds, compared to 1-4 milliseconds for a LEO satellite. A LEO satellite constellation can also provide more system capacity by frequency reuse across its coverage, with spot beam frequency use being analogous to the minimum number of satellites needed to provide a service, and their orbits--is a field in itself.


Walker Constellation

There are a large number of constellations that may satisfy a particular mission. Usually constellations are designed so that the satellites have similar orbits, eccentricity and inclination so that any perturbations affect each satellite in approximately the same way. In this way, the geometry can be preserved without excessive station-keeping thereby reducing the fuel usage and hence increasing the life of the satellites. Another consideration is that the phasing of each satellite in an orbital plane maintains sufficient separation to avoid collisions or interference at orbit plane intersections. Circular orbits are popular, because then the satellite is at a constant altitude requiring a constant strength signal to communicate.

A class of circular orbit geometries that has become popular is the Walker Delta Pattern constellation. This has an associated notation to describe it which was proposed by John Walker.[2] His notation is:

i: t/p/f

where: i is the inclination; t is the total number of satellites; p is the number of equally spaced planes; and f is the relative spacing between satellites in adjacent planes. The change in true anomaly (in degrees) for equivalent satellites in neighbouring planes is equal to f*360/t.

For example, the Galileo Navigation system is a Walker Delta 56°:24/3/1 constellation. This means there are 24 satellites in 3 planes inclined at 56 degrees, spanning the 360 degrees around the equator. The "1" defines the phasing between the planes, and how they are spaced. The Walker Delta is also known as the Ballard rosette, after A. H. Ballard's similar earlier work.[3][4] Ballard's notation is (t,p,m) where m is a multiple of the fractional offset between planes.

Another popular constellation type is the near-polar Walker Star, which is used by Iridium. Here, the satellites are in near-polar circular orbits across approximately 180 degrees, travelling north on one side of the Earth, and south on the other. The active satellites in the full Iridium constellation form a Walker Star of 86.4°:66/6/2, i.e. the phasing repeats every two planes. Walker uses similar notation for stars and deltas, which can be confusing.

These sets of circular orbits at constant altitude are sometimes referred to as orbital shells.


In 2015 Farooq Khan then the President of Samsung Research America published a research paper providing details how a large satellite broadband constellation can be designed.[5]

List of satellite constellations

Navigational satellite constellations

Satellite constellations used for navigation
Name Operator Satellites and orbits

(latest design, excluding spares)

Coverage Service(s) Status Years in service
Global Positioning System (GPS) USSF 24 in 6 planes at 20,180 km (55° MEO) Global Navigation Operational 1993-
GLONASS Roscosmos 24 in 3 planes at 19,130 km (64°8' MEO) Global Navigation Operational 1995-
Galileo GSA, ESA 24 in 3 planes at 23,222 km (56° MEO) Global Navigation Operational 2019-
BeiDou CNSA 3 geostationary at 35,786 km (GEO)

3 in 3 planes at 35,786 km (55° GSO)

24 in 3 planes at 21,150 km (55° MEO)



Navigation Operational 2012- (Asia)

2018- (Globally)

NAVIC ISRO 3 geostationary at 35,786 km (GEO)

4 in 2 planes at 250-24,000 km (29° GSO)

Regional Navigation Operational 2018-
QZSS JAXA 1 geostationary at 35,786 km (GEO)

3 in 3 planes at 32,600-39,000 (43° GSO)

Regional Navigation Operational 2018-

Communications satellite constellations



Two-way communication

Operational communications satellite constellations
Name Operator Constellation Design Coverage Service(s)
Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) Inmarsat 3 geostationary satellites 82°S to 82°N Internet access
Global Xpress (GX Inmarsat Ka-band geostationary satellites Internet access
European Aviation Network (EAN) Inmarsat One S-band geostationary satellite Aeronautical Internet access
Globalstar Globalstar 48 (8x6) at 1400 km, 52°[6] 70°S to 70°N[6] Internet access, satellite telephony
Iridium NEXT Iridium 66 (6x11) at 780 km, 86.4° Global Internet access, satellite telephony
O3b O3b Networks (part of SES S.A.) 20 in circular equatorial orbit at 8,062 km 45°S to 45°N Internet access
Orbcomm ORBCOMM 17 at 750 km, 52° (OG2) 65°S to 65°N "IoT and M2M communication", AIS
Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) 4th Space Operations Squadron Military communications
Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) 4th Space Operations Squadron 10 geostationary satellites Military communications
ViaSat Viasat, Inc. 4 geostationary satellites Varying Internet access
Eutelsat Eutelsat 20 geostationary satellites Commercial
Thuraya Thuraya 2 geostationary satellites EMEA and Asia Internet access, satellite telephony

A number of systems were proposed in the past but never realised:

Abandoned communications satellite constellations
Name Operator Constellation Design Service(s)
Celestri Motorola 63 (7 x 9) satellites at 1400 km, 48° Global, low-latency broadband Internet services
Teledesic constellation Teledesic 1994 design: 840 satellites at 700 km

1997 design: 288 (12 x 24) satellites at 1400 km, 98.2°

100 Mbit/s up, 720 Mbit/s down global internet access

A number of next-generation telecommunications satellite constellations are in-development:[7]

Proposed satellite internet constellations
Constellation Manufacturer Purpose Number Weight Unveil. Avail. Altitude Coverage User speed Band Inter-satellite links Status
Boeing Boeing Satellite Broadband 1,396-2,956 N/A 2016 N/A 1,200 km
745 mi
broadband V (40 - 75 GHz) none [8][9] transferring the application to OneWeb[10]
LeoSat Thales Alenia Broadband 78-108 1,250 kg
2,755 lb
2015 2022 1,400 km
895 mi
in increments of 100 Mbit/s Ka (26.5 - 40 GHz) optical [11] first launches in 2021[12]
OneWeb constellation OneWeb
Airbus JV
Broadband 882-1980[13] 145 kg
320 lb
2015 2020[14] 1,200 km
745 mi
up to 595 Mbit/s[14] Ku (12-18 GHz)
Ka (26.5 - 40 GHz)
none [15][16] 6 pilot satellites in February 2019

74[17] satellites launched as of 21 March 2020

File bankruptcy on 27 March 2020[18][19]

Starlink SpaceX Broadband 4,425-11,943 227 kg 2015 2020[20] 550-1,325 km
341-823 mi
up to 1 Gbit/s[21] Ku (12-18 GHz)
Ka (26.5 - 40 GHz)
optical[22] 362 [a] satellites launched as of March 18, 2020

Mission Starlink 0 on 24 May 2019 3 satellites had become non-operational [23]

O3b mPower

(SES S.A.)

Boeing Broadband 7 2017 2021 8,000 km
4,970 mi
45°S to 45°N 1 Gbit/s for a cruise ship Ka (26.5 - 40 GHz) none O3bm under development
Telesat LEO Airbus SSTL
Broadband 117-512[24] N/A 2016 2021 1,000-1,248 km
621-775 mi
fiber-optic cable-like Ka (26.5 - 40 GHz) optical [25][26] two prototypes: 2018 launch
CASIC Hongyun[27] 156 2017 2022 160-2,000 km
99-1,243 mi
prototype launched in December 2018[28]
CASC Hongyan[29][c] 320-864[31] 2017 2023 1,100-1,175 km
684-730 mi
prototype launched in December 2018[32]
Project Kuiper Kuiper Systems LLC (Amazon) Broadband 3236 2019 590 km (784 sats)

610 km (1296 sats)

630 km (1156 sats)

56°S to 56°N[33] FCC filing in July 2019
Xinghe (TY1-03)[34] Adaspace Imagery 192 satellites
Astranis Astranis Internet access 2 satellites
Astrocast Astrocast IoT 2 satellites
Global-1,2,3,4 Blacksky Imagery 20 satellites
Capella Capella Space SAR
ICEYE ICEYE SAR 18-28 satellites raised $13M, as of 8/19
Myriota Myriota IoT 50 satellites Raised $37M[35], as of 6 April 2020

acquired 4 on orbit satellites from exactEarth[36]

Swarm Swarm Technologies IoT 150 satellites
  1. ^ first two prototypes
  2. ^ first two prototypes
  3. ^ might be merged with Hongyun[30]

Observational satellite constellations

See also

External links

Satellite constellation simulation tools:

More information:


  1. ^ "On the increasing number of satellite constellations". Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ J. G. Walker, Satellite constellations, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 37, pp. 559-571, 1984
  3. ^ A. H. Ballard, Rosette Constellations of Earth Satellites, IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, Vol 16 No. 5, Sep. 1980.
  4. ^ J. G. Walker, Comments on "Rosette constellations of earth satellites", IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, vol. 18 no. 4, pp. 723-724, November 1982.
  5. ^ Khan, Farooq (9 August 2015). "Mobile Internet from the Heavens". arXiv:1508.02383 [cs.NI].
  6. ^ a b "Globalstar satellites". Retrieved .
  7. ^ Thierry Dubois (Dec 19, 2017). "Eight Satellite Constellations Promising Internet Service From Space". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
  8. ^ The Boeing Company (June 22, 2016). "SAT-LOA-20160622-00058". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  9. ^ The Boeing Company (June 22, 2016). "SAT-LOA-20161115-00109". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  10. ^ "Boeing wants to help OneWeb satellite plans". Advanced Television. 2017-12-17. Retrieved .
  11. ^ LeoSat Enterprises. "A NEW TYPE OF SATELLITE CONSTELLATION". Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ "LeoSat gains Hispasat as second investor, drops demo satellite plans". SpaceNews. 2018-07-10. Retrieved .
  13. ^ "OneWeb asks FCC to authorize 1,200 more satellites". SpaceNews. 2018-03-20. Retrieved .
  14. ^ a b "OneWeb hardware finally coming together". SpaceNews. 3 October 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  15. ^ WorldVu Satellites Limited (April 28, 2016). "ONEWEB NON-GEOSTATIONARY SATELLITE SYSTEM - ATTACHMENT A". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  16. ^ WorldVu Satellites Limited (April 28, 2016). "SAT-LOI-20160428-00041". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  17. ^ "OneWeb increases mega-constellation to 74 satellites". 2020-03-21. Retrieved .
  18. ^ "Coronavirus: OneWeb blames pandemic for collapse". 2020-03-30. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "(Official Form 1) (10/06)(PSK Special)" (PDF). 2020-03-27. Retrieved . Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ "Musk shakes up SpaceX in race to make satellite launch window: sources". Reuters. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  21. ^ "SpaceX Set to Launch 2 Starlink Satellites to Test Gigabit Broadband". ISPreview. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  22. ^ "This is how Elon Musk plans to use SpaceX to give internet to everyone". CNET. 21 February 2018.
  23. ^ Contact lost with three Starlink satellites, other 57 healthy, SpaceNews, 1 July 2019, accessed 1 July 2019.
  24. ^ "Telesat says ideal LEO constellation is 292 satellites, but could be 512". SpaceNews. 11 September 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  25. ^ Telesat Canada (August 24, 2017). "Telesat Technical Narrative". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ Telesat Canada (August 24, 2017). "SAT-PDR-20170301-00023". FCC Space Station Applications. Retrieved 2018.
  27. ^ Zhao, Lei (5 March 2018). "Satellite will test plan for communications network". China Daily. Retrieved 2018.
  28. ^ Barbosa, Rui C. (21 December 2018). "Chinese Long March 11 launches with the first Hongyun satellite". Retrieved 2018.
  29. ^ Jones, Andrew (13 November 2018). "China to launch first Hongyan LEO communications constellation satellite soon". GBTimes. Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ @Cosmic_Penguin (14 December 2019). "Notice that these satellites from CASC are mentioned as part of a "national satellite Internet system". There are rumors that several of the planned Chinese private LEO comsat constellations have been recently absorbed into one big nationalized one" (Tweet). Retrieved 2019 – via Twitter.
  31. ^ @EL2squirrel (12 December 2019). "Chinese version of OneWeb: The Hongyan system consists of 864 satellites, with 8Tbps of bandwidth, Orbital altitude 1175km" (Tweet). Retrieved 2019 – via Twitter.
  32. ^ Barbosa, Rui (29 December 2018). "Long March 2D concludes 2018 campaign with Hongyan-1 launch". Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ Porter, Jon (2019-04-04). "Amazon will launch thousands of satellites to provide internet around the world". The Verge. Retrieved .
  34. ^ Yi, Wang (30 Jun 2019). "ADASpace set to star in AI satellite constellation sphere". Global Times. Retrieved 2019.
  35. ^ "Myriota raises $19.3 million to expand its IoT satellite constellation". 2020-04-06. Retrieved .
  36. ^ "Australia's Myriota to acquire 4 exactEarth satellites". 2020-04-06. Retrieved .

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