Utilizing Existing Commercial Geostationary Earth Orbit Fixed Satellite Services for Low Earth Orbit Satellite Communication Relays with Earth

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There are only a few ways that a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite can communicate with Earth without a ground station network. A LEO satellite can link with other LEO satellites establishing a mesh network that connects with Earth, or LEO satellites can relay their traffic through one of only a few specialized existing or planned geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) or medium Earth orbit (MEO) relay satellites such as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) and Audacy. Unfortunately, there is a real possibility that these limited choices for satellite communications will not accommodate all of the anticipated growth in LEO satellite deployments that are forecast for the next 10 years. The less efficient direct LEO to Earth communications link method will be used unless another solution can be found. A new option may be to leverage the on-orbit commercial GEO satellites that already support the fixed satellite services (FSSs) market. In this scenario, a LEO satellite would relay its communications through the GEO satellite and down to an Earth station, much the same way terrestrial very small aperture terminals, cruise ships, or jet airliners do today. Utilizing several of these commercial GEO satellites, a LEO satellite could communicate with Earth during a large portion of each orbit. There are some challenges with such a scheme, including regulatory hurdles, but if they could be overcome a significant resource of satellite communication services could be engaged to support the future growth of the satellite industry. Several new LEO to GEO relay methods have been proposed or are in development, requiring the deployment of new GEO relay satellites, but this article discusses the idea of utilizing the hundreds of existing FSS GEO satellites operating in C, Ku, and Ka band to leverage an existing resource for satellite communications with LEO satellites.

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