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Artificial Satellites

Over 2,000 man-made satellites are currently orbiting the Earth, providing a wide range of services like communications, remote sensing, and global positioning. As more are launched and new technologies are developed, they will play an increasingly important role in everyday life.

The Tech Museum offers this site (1) dedicated to the basics of satellites and their functions. A Java program complements the Satellite Anatomy section, which illustrates the standard components of three different categories of satellites. More information specific to satellite launches and their orbits can be found here (2). Most of the material is composed of fun experiments that demonstrate satellite operation. One of the most interesting features on this NASA site (3) is the Live 3D Java Tracking Display, which shows hundreds of different satellites and their current position in orbit. A few selected news articles and a separate section on satellite applications are also provided. The European Space Agency provides a look at solar power satellites (4), which could essentially "beam" energy to Earth. While it is not a new concept, the sheer magnitude of a project to construct a solar power satellite has thus far been too great to justify an attempt. At a conference held in December 2002 (5), representatives from the satellite industry convened to discuss current developments. Although many of the articles only address industry outlooks, some are more technology-oriented. For instance, one considers a new navigation system that could improve overall coverage and signal availability. A lesson plan (6) for grades K-5 teaches children how satellites are launched and some basic terminology. The activity uses different sized marbles, clay, and some other items to demonstrate fundamental concepts. Satellites of the Global Positioning System are being used for more than they were originally intended in England. This news article (7) describes how they are used to study earthquakes and corresponding movements in the Earth's crust. In other news (8), the largest communications satellite ever built was lost in November 2002. The failure of one of its launching rockets resulted in the satellite falling in a decaying orbit until it fell into the sea.
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