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4-16 Flexibility Most operational military satellite earth terminals are housed in transportable vans. These can be loaded into cargo planes and flown to remote areas. With trained crews these terminals can be put into operation in a matter of hours. Worldwide communications can be established quickly to remote areas nearly anywhere in the free world. SATELLITE LIMITATIONS Limitations of a satellite communications system are determined by the technical characteristics of the satellite and its orbital parameters. Active communications satellite systems are limited by two things. Satellite transmitter power on the down links and receiver sensitivity on the up links. Some early communications satellites have been limited by low-gain antennas. Power The amount of power available in an active satellite is limited by the weight restrictions imposed on the satellite. Early communications satellites were limited to a few hundred pounds because of launch- vehicle payload restraints. The only feasible power source is the inefficient solar cell. (Total power generation in the earlier satellites was less than 50 watts.) As you can see, the rf power output is severely limited; therefore, a relatively weak signal is transmitted by the satellite on the down link. The weak transmitted signal is often reduced by propagation losses. This results in a very weak signal being available at the earth terminals. The level of signals received from a satellite is comparable to the combination of external atmospheric noise and internal noise of standard receivers. Special techniques must be used to extract the desired information from the received signal. Large, high-gain antennas and special types of preamplifiers solve this problem but add complexity and size to the earth terminal. (The smallest terminal in the defense communication systems network has effectively an 18-foot antenna and weighs 19,500 pounds.) Development of more efficient power sources and relaxation of weight restrictions have permitted improved satellite performance and increased capacity. Receiver Sensitivity Powerful transmitters with highly directional antennas are used at earth stations. Even with these large transmitters, a lot of signal loss occurs at the satellite. The satellite antenna receives only a small amount of the transmitted signal power. A relatively weak signal is received at the satellite receiver. This presents little problem as the strength of the signal received on the up link is not as critical as that received on the down link. The down-link signal is critical because the signal transmitted from the satellite is very low in power. Development of high-gain antennas and highly sensitive receivers have helped to solve the down-link problem. Availability The availability of a satellite to act as a relay station between two earth terminals depends on the locations of the earth terminals and the orbit of the satellite. All satellites, except those in a synchronous orbit, will be in view of any given pair of earth stations only part of the time. The length of time that a nonsynchronous satellite in a circular orbit will be in the ZONE OF MUTUAL VISIBILITY (the satellite can be seen from both terminals) depends upon the height at which the satellite is circling. Elliptical orbits cause the satellite zone of mutual visibility between any two earth terminals to vary from orbit to orbit. These times of mutual visibility are predictable. Figure 4-14 illustrates the zone of mutual visibility.