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Learn More About Satellites and How They Work

Satellites are objects that revolve around a heavenly body, such as a planet. They follow an elliptical or circular path and can either be natural or manmade. An example of a natural satellite is the moon, which circles the Earth. With the advancement of technology, manmade satellites were built and launched and are now circling our planet.

A satellite follows a path called an orbit. The farthest point of the orbit from Earth is called the apogee while the nearest point is known as the perigee.

Contrary to what most people think, satellites don't come from production lines. Because of the cost of building, launching and maintaining them, they are not practical for mass production. Instead, they are custom-built to a certain specification, depending on their intended use. There are exceptions, of course, such as GPS satellites and Iridium satellites. Currently, there are more than 20 GPS satellites and more than 60 Iridium satellites in orbit.

There are also objects in space called space junk that are orbiting the planet. These are either space garbage such as loosened and damaged parts from satellites and rockets or just objects that are no longer used. These can include used rocket boosters, payloads that follow a wrong orbit, even satellites with discharged batteries. Depending on who's counting, there are approximately 23,000 to nearly 26,000 objects in space that can be categorized as space junk.

Technically speaking, any object that orbits the Earth can be called a satellite. However, the term itself is generally used to refer to any object that has been purposely placed in space for a specific function or mission. This is why we have weather satellites, scientific satellites and communication satellites.

The first manmade satellite that was successfully launched in space was built by the former Soviet Union. It orbited the Earth on October 4, 1957 and was called Sputnik I. It contained a radio transmitter, a battery and a thermometer. To keep the interior of the satellite pressurized, nitrogen gas was added. It burned out in the atmosphere after a then-impressive 92 days.

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