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Chapter 9:
The Space Environment
Most people know that space is a vacuum. Some therefore assume that it should be a rather benign environment for satellites. There is no wind, nothing rusts, and there is sun all of the time. Although there is indeed little material in space, what little there is, along with the immaterial flow of radiation in space, makes for an environment that is challenging for spacecraft engineers to design a complicated piece of hardware that will last a decade or more with no repairs. Quality control and reliability are at a premium, since no one makes “house calls” in the Clarke orbit! This is a primary reason for the high cost of a satellite system. There are five important environmental factors that influence the design and operation of a satellite, whether used for communications or for some other purpose. These space environmental factors are • gravity; • vacuum; • radiation; • meteoroids; and • space debris. The relative importance of each may depend on the details of the satellite’s orbit, as we will see later in this chapter.
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