PNG images: Satellite 

In context of spaceflight, a satellite is an artificial object which has been intentionally placed into orbit. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as Earth's Moon.

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In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. Since then, about 6,600 satellites from more than 40 countries have been launched. According to a 2013 estimate, 3,600 remained in orbit. Of those, about 1,000 were operational; while the rest have lived out their useful lives and became space debris. Approximately 500 operational satellites are in low-Earth orbit, 50 are in medium-Earth orbit (at 20,000 km), and the rest are in geostationary orbit (at 36,000 km). A few large satellites have been launched in parts and assembled in orbit. Over a dozen space probes have been placed into orbit around other bodies and become artificial satellites to the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, a few asteroids, and the Sun.

Satellites are used for many purposes. Common types include military and civilian Earth observation satellites, communications satellites, navigation satellites, weather satellites, and space telescopes. Space stations and human spacecraft in orbit are also satellites. Satellite orbits vary greatly, depending on the purpose of the satellite, and are classified in a number of ways. Well-known (overlapping) classes include low Earth orbit, polar orbit, and geostationary orbit.

A launch vehicle is a rocket that throws a satellite into orbit. Usually it lifts off from a launch pad on land. Some are launched at sea from a submarine or a mobile maritime platform, or aboard a plane (see air launch to orbit).

Satellites are usually semi-independent computer-controlled systems. Satellite subsystems attend many tasks, such as power generation, thermal control, telemetry, attitude control and orbit control.

"Newton's cannonball", presented as a "thought experiment" in A Treatise of the System of the World, by Isaac Newton was the first published mathematical study of the possibility of an artificial satellite.

The first fictional depiction of a satellite being launched into orbit was a short story by Edward Everett Hale, The Brick Moon. The idea surfaced again in Jules Verne's The Begum's Fortune (1879).


In 1903, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) published Exploring Space Using Jet Propulsion Devices, which is the first academic treatise on the use of rocketry to launch spacecraft. He calculated the orbital speed required for a minimal orbit, and that a multi-stage rocket fuelled by liquid propellants could achieve this.

In 1928, Herman Potočnik (1892–1929) published his sole book, The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor (German: Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor). He described the use of orbiting spacecraft for observation of the ground and described how the special conditions of space could be useful for scientific experiments.


In a 1945 Wireless World article, the English science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008) described in detail the possible use of communications satellites for mass communications. He suggested that three geostationary satellites would provide coverage over the entire planet.

The US military studied the idea of what was referred to as the earth satellite vehicle when Secretary of Defense James Forrestal made a public announcement on 29 December 1948, that his office was coordinating that project between the various services.

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