LEO satellites are commonly deployed for communications purposes and the transmission of scientific data, while MEO satellites cover a variety of uses including communications, navigation and the exchange of geodetic/space environment data. As LEO and MEO satellites do not synchronise with the Earth’s rotation and orbit the earth more rapidly than GEO satellites – an orbital period of 128 minutes or less for LEO, and an average of between 2 and 8 hours for MEO – multiple satellites are required in order to achieve seamless coverage.
However, one of the main advantages of NGSO satellites over GEO satellites is considerably lower latency. Whereas GEO satellites have roughly 550 milliseconds of round-trip latency time, LEO satellites boast a latency of 240 milliseconds, signifying a distinct advantage in the sphere of real-time applications. In a maritime context, the combination of high bandwidth and low latency is a highly-prized aid in the implementation of crew communications, videoconferencing, and so on.
One of the earliest MEO satellites to be launched was Telstar in 1962, the first communications satellite. Today, concentrated investment in technological development and infrastructure is driving the design and manufacture of myriad new LEO and MEO satellite constellations, with considerable potential for military and defence deployment as well as a profusion of uses in the commercial and leisure maritime sectors.
As regards the future of maritime satellite communication, network providers are looking towards the integration of new LEO and MEO solutions with existing, tried-and-tested GEO services so as to provide the most productive and cost-effective amalgamation of coverage and bandwidth usage.