Policy Problems of Geosynchronous Geostationary Orbit

As noted, a special type of geosynchronous orbit is a geostationary orbit. A geostationary satellite stays over the same point on the surface of the Earth at all times. While all geostationary orbits must be geosynchronous, not all geosynchronous orbits are geostationary. Unlike all other classes of orbits, there is only one geostationary orbit. The advantage of a satellite in a geostationary orbit is that it remains fixed relative to the Earth's surface. This makes it an ideal orbit for communications. Users on Earth always know where to point an antenna. However, the fact that there is only one geostationary orbit presents serious policy problems. There are a limited number of places to put satellites without the risk of interference with other satellites. Regulating the geosynchronous/geostationary orbit has been found necessary.

Geostationary satellites can only orbit over the equator. Most geostationary satellites rarely can stray beyond a 30 km band that encompasses the nominal altitude of the geostationary position [18]. They are confined to an extremely small area in comparison to other regions of near-Earth space. For example, each satellite is usually kept in its position with an accuracy of approximately one-tenth of one degree. This situation allows no more than 1800 satellites to be positioned in geostationary orbit without posing a navigational hazard to one another [19]. Still, this theoretical maximum overestimates the possible number of desirable positions. The physical as well as economical values of various satellite positions are not equal. Only a subset of slots within the band of operations is best suited for communications.

Orbital positions, in general, that have broad coverage of continental regions are more desirable than those that can access only smaller portions of those land masses. In addition, the orbital slots over industrialized areas are in much more demand than in less developed areas. Slots over less developed countries with a location that would give a satellite coverage of industrial countries are also in demand. Hence, there is a "pecking order" in near-Earth space orbits, and nations compete for a share of this space environment.

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