Satellites, Radar, and the Electrical Engineer

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Since Sputnik 1 was launched by the Russians in 1957, more than 50 countries have joined the race to launch satellites into orbit from low-earth to geosynchronous orbit (260 to 22,240 miles from earth). Of the more than 3,500 satellites in earth’s orbit, about 1/3 are active while the rest are no longer operating. The business of launching satellites is evolving, however, and the numbers of operational satellites are set to increase by thousands within the next decade.

To learn more, checkout this infographic created by Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program.

Satellites, Radar, and the Electrical Engineer infographic

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The Business of Satellites

Mainstream aeronautical engineering and technology was once solely the purview of NASA and other space agencies around the world. Today, big corporations like Google and Space X are taking the initiative to develop and launch their own outer-space technology. Costs of building and launching satellites have dropped so that it is feasible for Google to spend $1Billion on the creation of 180 low-earth (260 miles), high capacity satellites to bring wireless Internet to countries and regions not yet connected to the worldwide web, or not effectively connected. Space X is set to release 4,000 of relatively small satellites weighing about as much as a Vespa Scooter. Elon Musk of Tesla fame has high hopes of making the Internet accessible at low cost to millions of people globally.

Planet Labs was planning to release 1,000 small satellites by the end of 2015 and Skybox plans to release 23 100-kg satellites soon. At 03B Networks, they project the launch of several large satellites into medium-earth orbit about 5,000 miles high.

What Are Satellites Used for?

There are 4 types of satellites currently in orbit: communication, navigation, weather, and astronomical devices. The last of these records and sends information about outer space to researchers on earth. Weather satellites show viewers pictures of cloud movements, rain, hurricanes, and sunny spots around the earth all year round. SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) takes multiple images of a single spot on the earth that experts use to show changes in weather by day or night. Their sharp resolution is not impeded by bad weather.

The Future of Satellite Design

As for design and development, the future has already taken hold of this industry. New Nanosets measure about 4 inches square and offer a cost-effective solution to massive, expensive operations, but their application is as yet uncertain. While experts decide how to use this miniature technology, unmanned vehicles similar to airplanes known as pseudo-satellites fly at altitudes of 70,000 feet during the day and 50,000 by night, powered by solar energy. They can hover in one spot to capture images without a person at the controls. Their application is cost-effective and safe.

Another major development will be the use of electricity not only to keep satellites in orbit but to get them there in the first place. Up to this point, chemical thrust has been the means of launching a satellite. Chemicals are costly and dangerous, rendering a system in its pre-launch state no less deadly than a massive bomb. Engineers are pursuing the possibility of using electricity to carry out the launch process for less money and at far lower risk.

Generally, engineers and designers are working on ways of creating smaller and lighter satellites. If they can achieve this goal, involvement will become affordable and realistic for numerous forward-thinking business people. Satellite technology will spill out from the domain of aeronautical agencies into the commercial world even more than it already has.

Engineering the Future

Innovation in the field of satellite design, manufacture, and launching systems is the specialty of electrical engineers. This industry relies on the expertise of highly skilled men and women who can think outside of the box. Related organizations expect to make hundreds of new jobs available to graduates every year with the biggest push for graduates coming soon. One reason for the rise in employment prospects within the decade is that a quarter of the workforce is now aged 55 or older and, thus, set to retire from the field at any time. University students can expect 1,600 openings within the coming ten years while some companies are already searching for between 200 and 500 new employees in various capacities. University graduates with exceptional grades from recognized universities from around the world have a good chance of finding work right now or when they finish further specialist training. Students with a blend of engineering and business acumen could also put their knowledge to good use starting with companies in the public sector specializing in satellite research and development, taking advantage of developments mentioned above and becoming the next deep thinkers to achieve wealth and fame in the technological sector.