The context: We’ve known since the 1980s that you don’t need mega-constellations comprising thousands of satellites to provide global internet coverage to the world. Continuous worldwide coverage is possible with a constellation of just four satellites placed at much higher altitudes.
So why don’t we have that? The big obstacle is cost. Several factors work to degrade a satellite’s orbit, and to combat them, you need a huge amount of propellant on the satellite to consistently stabilize its orbit. Manufacturing, launch, and operational costs are just too high for the four-satellite trick.
A new idea: A new study proposes a counterintuitive approach that turns these degrading forces into ones that actually help keep these satellites in orbit. Instead of elliptical, the satellites’ orbits would be circular, letting them get by with less fuel while still providing nearly global coverage (at slower speeds). The team ran simulations and found two that would work—but there are still too many other issues for it to ever happen. Read the full story.