Communications Satellites: Understanding the Telemetry That Brings You TV

Ever wonder how TV companies can beam a signal right to your home. It’s almost like magic. Well, in 1962, the U.S. Congress passed the Communications Satellite Act. That created the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat). 

Telemetry From there, 17 other countries joined Comsat. In 1964, the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (Intelsat) was formed. It’s purpose? To establish a global commercial communications network. And like that, satellite TV was born. Since 2001, Intelsat has maintained a network of 28 satellites in geosynchronous orbits, providing instant communication throughout the world.

But to maintain satellite integrity, telemetry systems are needed. Otherwise, all that stuff up there in space might collide and ruin the Sunday night game.

What Is Telemetry?

Telemetry systems are location-specifying systems that determine where to send critical data necessary for communication. When you get your satellite TV bill, and you see those directv prices, just know that you’re paying for an amazing technological feat. It’s actually amazing how satellite networks can offer such services for so little.

These telemetry systems allow service providers to beam information from all over the world right to your home, to a small little satellite positions on your roof.

How Are Telemetry Systems Used?

Telemetry systems allow remote users (or computers) to report information. They also allow computers to measure information. These systems don’t require external commands once they’ve come online though. They are basically self-sufficient systems, and can even adapt to changes in environmental conditions.

Telemetry systems also make use of integrated receiver and transmitter devices called “transponders.” These transponders communicate through traditional infrared and radio frequencies but can also use other media like the telephone network or even the Internet. Some systems are even able to use SMS and GSM networks. By spreading out the data gathering and transmission channels, operational costs can be quite low.

Where Are Telemetry Systems Used?

Most of the telemetry systems in use today are for satellites, motor racing, and weather data collection. In satellites, the systems control movement and positioning as well as propulsion. That means that when a satellite company needs to move its satellites, it doesn’t actually have to physically move them. They care essentially launched up into space, and the company just lets the satellite do its thing.

Of course, companies have monitoring systems to keep tabs on what’s happening, and many companies do have the option of manual control over their satellite, but it can be a “hands-off” operation for the most part.

When satellite service providers offer Internet access, telemetry becomes increasingly important. For TV service, the satellite needs to be pointing in the generate direction of the dish on your roof. But mostly the data is being pushed to your TV. With the Internet, there’s upstream that has to be managed. That means the satellite needs to be capable of receiving large amounts of data as well as being able to transmit data back.

Since satellites aren’t easily upgradable, companies often need to launch new systems when they want to offer substantially better service. That’s why having a good telemetry system onboard is crucial when the satellite is launched.

Sophie Hutt works with entertainment technology. She relishes explaining the science behind everyday entertainment systems.

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