Glossary of Satellite Terms

All materials displayed on this site are
© 2000 Design Publishers, 800 Siesta Way, Sonoma, CA 95476.

| A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |



Advanced Communications Technology Satellite. A NASA experimental satellite project to demonstrate the use of the Ka-Band (30/20 GHz) services.

A device used to boost the strength of an electronic signal.

Amplitude Modulation (AM)
The baseband signal is caused to vary the amplitude or height of the carrier wave to create the desired information content.

A form of transmitting information characterized by continuously variable quantities, as opposed to digital transmission, which is characterized by discrete bits of information in numerical steps. An analog signal is responsive to changes in light, sound, heat and pressure.

Analog-to-Digital Conversion (ADC)
Process of converting analog signals to a digital representation. DAC represents the reverse translation.

The Canadian domestic satellite system that transmits Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CSC) network feeds throughout the country. This system also carries long distance voice and data services throughout Canada as well as some transborder service to the U.S. and Mexico.

A device for transmitting and receiving radio waves. Depending on their use and operating frequency, antennas can take the form of a single piece of wire, a di-pole a grid such as a yagi array, a horn, a helix, a sophisticated parabolic-shaped dish, or a phase array of active electronic elements of virtually any flat or convoluted surface.

A cross sectional area of the antenna which is exposed to the satellite signal.

The point in an elliptical satellite orbit which is farthest from the surface of the earth. Geosynchronous satellites which maintain circular orbits around the earth are first launched into highly elliptical orbits with apogees of 22,237 miles. When the communication satellite reaches the appropriate apogee, a rocket motor is fired to place the satellite into its permanent circular orbit of 22,237 miles.

Apogee Kick Motor (AKM)
Rocket motor fired to circulate orbit and deploy satellite into geostationary orbit.

Apstar (Asia-Pacific Star)
Name of the Chinese satellite system which carries commercial video services in the region.

This is the Arabsat Satellite Organization and its is headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It provides regional telecommunications services for the Middle East region.

A satellite system covering the Asia mainland.

Asynchronous Communications
Stream of data routed through a network as generated, rather than in organized message blocks. Most personal computers send data in this format. (See ATM)

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)
This is the new form of super-fast packet switching operating at speeds in the Gigabits/second.

The loss in power of electromagnetic signals between transmission and reception points.

Attitude Control
The orientation of the satellite in relationship to the earth and the sun.

Audio Subcarrier
The carrier between 5 MHz and 8 MHz containing audio (or voice) information inside of a video carrier.

Automatic Frequency Control (AFC)
A circuit which automatically controls the frequency of a signal.

Automatic Gain Control (AGC)
A circuit which automatically controls the gain of an amplifier so that the output signal level is virtually constant for varying input signal levels.

AZ/EL Mount
Antenna mount that requires two separate adjustments to move from one satellite to another;

The angle of rotation (horizontal) that a ground based parabolic antenna must be rotated through to point to a specific satellite in a geosynchronous orbit. The azimuth angle for any particular satellite can be determined for any point on the surface of the earth giver the latitude and longitude of that point. It is defined with respect to due north as a matter of easy convenience.



A method of transmitting and scrambling television signals. In such transmissions MAC (Multiplexed Analog Component) signals are time-multiplexed with a digital burst containing digitized sound, video synchronizing, authorization, and information.

A terrestrial communications channel linking an earth station to a local switching network or population center.

The process of reducing the input and output power levels of a traveling wave tube to obtain more linear operation.

Band Pass Filter
An active or passive circuit which allows signals within the desired frequency band to pass through but impedes signals outside this pass band from getting through.

A measure of spectrum (frequency) use or capacity. For instance, a voice transmission by telephone requires a bandwidth of about 3000 cycles per second (3KHz). A TV channel occupies a bandwidth of 6 million cycles per second (6 MHz) in terrestrial Systems. In satellite based systems a larger bandwidth of 17.5 to 72 MHz is used to spread or "dither" the television signal in order to prevent interference.

The basic direct output signal in an intermediate frequency based obtained directly from a television camera, satellite television receiver, or video tape recorder. Baseband signals can be viewed only on studio monitors. To display the baseband signal on a conventional television set a "modulator" is required to convert the baseband signal to one of the VHF or UHF television channels which the television set can be tuned to receive.

The rate of data transmission based on the number of signal elements or symbols transmitted per second. Today most digital signals are characterized in bits per second.

Low-power carrier transmitted by a satellite which supplies the controlling engineers on the ground with a means of monitoring telemetry data, tracking the satellite, or conducting propagation experiments. This tracking beacon is usually a horn or omni antenna.

The angle or conical shape of the beam the antenna projects. Large antennas have narrower beamwidths and can pinpoint satellites in space or dense traffic areas on the earth more precisely. Tighter beamwidths thus deliver higher levels of power and thus greater communications performance.

Slang for a communications satellite located in geosynchronous orbit.

A single digital unit of information

Bit Error Rate
The fraction of a sequence of message bits that are in error. A bit error rate of 10-6 means that there is an average of one error per million bits.

Bit Rate
The speed of a digital transmission, measured in bits per second.

An ordinary television signal consists of 30 separate still pictures or frames sent every second. They occur so rapidly, the human eye blurs them together to form an illusion of moving pictures. This is the basis for television and motion picture systems. The blanking interval is that portion of the television signal which occurs after one picture frame is sent and before the next one is transmitted. During this period of time special data signals can be sent which will not be picked up on an ordinary television receiver.

Block Down Converter
A device used to convert the 3.7 to 4.2 KHz signal down to UHF or lower frequencies (1 GHz and lower).

BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying)
A digital modulation technique in which the carrier phase can have one of two possible values, namely 0 degrees or 180 degrees.

Broad beam
A single large circular beam that covers a large geographic area

The sending of one transmission to multiple users in a defined group (compare to unicast).

BSS (Broadcast Satellite Service)
This is the ITU designation but DBS or Direct Broadcast Service is more commonly used term in the satellite industry.

Business Television
Corporate communications tool involving video transmission of information via satellite.
Common uses of business television are for meetings, product introductions and training.

Buttonhook Feed
A shaped piece of waveguide directing signal from the feed to the LNA behind the antenna.

Use of satellite, local area network, wide area network or metropolitan area network as an alternative transmission facility.


C Band
This is the band between 4 and 8 GHz with the 6 and 4 GHz band being used for satellite communications. Specifically, the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz satellite communication band is used as the down link frequencies in tandem with the 5.925 to 6,425 GHz band that serves as the uplink.

The basic radio, television, or telephony center of frequency transmit signal. The carrier in an analog signal. is modulated by manipulating its amplitude (making it louder or softer) or its frequency (shifting it up or down) in relation to the incoming signal. Satellite carriers operating in the analog mode are usually frequency modulated.

Carrier Frequency
The main frequency on which a voice, data, or video signal is sent. Microwave and satellite communications transmitters operate in the band from 1 to 14 GHz (a GHz is one billion cycles per second).

Carrier to Noise Ratio (C/N)
The ratio of the received carrier power and the noise power in a given bandwidth, expressed in dB. This figure is directly related to G/T and S/N; and in a video signal the higher the C/N, the better the received picture.

Cassegrain Antenna
The antenna principle that utilizes a subreflector at the focal point which reflects energy to or from a feed located at the apex of the main reflector.

Originally meant Community Antenna Television. Independent smaller companies in rural communities would build a large television receiving antenna on a nearby mountain to pick up the weak TV signals from a distant metropolis. These signals were amplified, modulated onto television channels and sent along a coaxial cable strung from house to house.

Comite Consultatif Internationale de Telegraphique et Telephonique. International body, associated with the ITU, which establishes worldwide standards for telecommunications. Reorganized to include CCIR (radio standards group) and renamed TSS (Telecommunications Standardization Sector).

Code division multiple access. Refers to a multiple-access scheme where stations use spread-spectrum modulations and orthogonal codes to avoid interfering with one another.

A frequency band in which a specific broadcast signal is transmitted. Channel frequencies are specified in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission. Television signals require a 6 MHz frequency band to carry all the necessary picture detail.

Common Intermediate Format. A compromise television display format adopted by the CCITT which is relatively  easy to derive from both PAL and NTSC.

Circular Polarization
Unlike many domestic satellites which utilize vertical or horizontal polarization, the international Intelsat satellites transmit their signals in a rotating corkscrew-like pattern as they are down-linked to earth. On some satellites, both right-hand rotating and left-hand rotating signals can be transmitted simultaneously on the same frequency; thereby doubling the capacity of the satellite to carry communications channels.

A video processing circuit that removes the energy dispersal signal component from the video waveform.

Clarke Orbit
That circular orbit in space 22,237 miles from the surface of the earth at which geosynchronous satellites are placed. This orbit was first postulated by the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in Wireless World magazine in 1945. Satellites placed in these orbits, although traveling around the earth at thousands of miles an hour, appear to be stationary when viewed from a point on the earth, since the earth is rotating upon its axis at the same angular rate that the satellite is traveling around the earth.

C/No or C/kTB
Carrier-to-noise ratio measured either at the Radio Frequency (RF) or Intermediate Frequency (IF).

Coaxial Cable
A transmission line in which an inner conductor is surrounded by an outer conductor or shield and separated by a nonconductive dielectric.

Coder/decoder system for digital transmission.

Ability of multiple satellites to share the same approximate geostationary orbital assignment frequently due to the fact that different frequency bands are used.

Color Subcarrler
A subcarrier that is added to the main video signal to convey the color information. In NTSC systems, the color subcarrier is centered on a frequency of 3.579545 MHz, referenced to the main video carrier.

Common Carrier
Any organization which operates communications circuits used by other people. Common carriers include the telephone companies as well as the owners of the communications satellites, RCA, Comsat, Direct Net Telecommunications, AT&T and others. Common carriers are required to file fixed tariffs for specific services.

A noise-reduction technique that applies single compression at the transmitter and complementary expansion at the receiver.

Composite Baseband
The unclamped and unfiltered output of the satellite receiver's demodulator circuit, containg the video information as well as all transmitted subcarriers.

Compression Algorithms
Software that allows codecs to reduce the number of bits required for data storage or transmission.

The Communications Satellite Corporation (part of Lockheed Martin) which serves as the U.S. Signatory to INTELSAT and INMARSAT.

Contiguous United States. In short, all the states in the U.S. except Hawaii and Alaska.

Cross Modulation
A form of signal distortion in which modulation from one or more RF carrier(s) is imposed on another carrier.

Channel service unit. A digital interface device that connects end-user equipment to the local digital telephone loop. CSU is frequently coupled with DSU (see below) as CSU/DSU.

Carrier-to-noise-temperature ratio.


Demand-Assigned Multiple Access - A highly efficient means of instantaneously assigning telephony channels in a transponder according to immediate traffic demands.

Direct broadcast satellite. Refers to service that uses satellites to broadcast multiple channels of television programming directly to home mounted small-dish antennas.

The dB power relative to an isotropic source.

The ratio of the power to one Watt expressed in decibels.

Differential Binary Phase Shift Keying

Differential Quadrature Phase Shift Keying.
Decibel (dB)
The standard unit used to express the ratio of two power levels. It is used in communications to express either a gain or loss in power between the input and output devices.

The offset angle of an antenna from the axis of its polar mount as measured in the meridian plane between the equatorial plane and the antenna main beam.

A television set-top device which enables the home subscriber to convert an electronically scrambled television picture into a viewable signal. This should not be confused with a digital coder/decoder known as a CODEC which is used in conjunction with digital transmissions.

Reinstatement of a uniform baseband frequency response following demodulation.

The time it takes for a signal to go from the sending station through the satellite to the receiving station. This transmission delay for a single hop satellite connection is very close on one-quarter of a second.

A satellite receiver circuit which extracts or "demodulates" the "wanted "signals from the received carrier.

The modulation level of an FM signal determined by the amount of frequency shift from the frequency of the main carrier.

Conversion of information into bits of data for transmission through wire, fiber optic cable, satellite, or over air techniques. Method allows simultaneous transmission of voice, data or video.

Digital Speech Interpolation
DSI - A means of transmitting telephony. Two and One half to three times more efficiently based on the principle that people are talking only about 40% of the time.

A type of FM demodulator used in satellite receivers.

he process of shifting the 6-MHz satellite-tv signal up and down the 36-MHz satellite transponder spectrum at a rate of 30 times per second (30 Hertz). The satellite signal is "dithered" to spread the transmission energy out over a band of frequencies far wider than a terrestrial common carrier microwave circuit operates within, thereby minimizing the potential interference that any one single terrestrial microwave transmitter could possibly cause to the satellite transmission.

That portion of the Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) television receiver that converts the signals from the 4-GHz microwave range to (typically) the more readily used baseband or intermediate frequency (IF) 70-MHz range.

The satellite to earth half of a 2 way telecommunications satellite link. Often used to describe the recieve dish end of the link.

Data service unit. A device used in digital transmission that adapts the physical interface on a DTE device to a transmission facility such as T1 or E1. The DSU is also responsible for such functions as signal timing. DSU is freqnetly coupled with a CSU (see above) as CSU/DSU.

Digital Television

Dual Spin
Spacecraft design whereby the main body of the satellite is spun to provide altitude stabilization, and the antenna assembly is despun by means of a motor and bearing system in order to continually direct the antenna earthward. This dual-spin configuration thus serves to create a spin stabilized satellite.

Duplex Transmission
Capability for simultaneous data transmission between a sending station and a receiving station.

Digital Video Broadcasting - The European-backed project to harmonise adoption of digital video.


Wide-area digital transmission facility used predominantly in Europe that carries data at a rate of 2.048 Mbit/s.

Wide-area digital transmission facility used predominantly in Europe that carries data at a rate of 34.368 Mbit/s.

Earth Station
The term used to describe the combination or antenna, low-noise amplifier (LNA), down-converter, and receiver electronics. used to receive a signal transmitted by a satellite. Earth Station antennas vary in size from the.2 foot to 12 foot (65 centimeters to 3.7 meters) diameter size used for TV reception to as large as 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter sometimes used for international communications. The typical antenna used for INTELSAT communication is today 13 to 18 meters or 40 to 60 feet.

Echo Canceller
An electronic circuit which attenuates or eliminates the echo effect on satellite telephony links. Echo cancellers are largely replacing obsolete echo suppressors.

Echo Effect
A time-delayed electronic reflection of a speaker's voice. This is largely eliminated by modern digital echo cancellers.

When a satellite passes through the line between the earth and the sun or the earth and the moon.

Eclipse Protected
Refers to a transponder that can remain powered during the period of an eclipse.

An antenna mount providing independent adjustments in elevation and azimuth.

Edge of Coverage
Limit of a satellite's defined service area. In many cases, the EOC is defined as being 3 dB down from the signal level at beam center. However, reception may still be possible beyond the -3dB point.

Effective Isotropic Radiated Power - This term describes the strength of the signal leaving the satellite antenna or the transmitting earth station antenna, and is used in determining the C/N and S/N. The transmit power value in units of dBW is expressed by the product of the transponder output power and the gain of the satellite transmit antenna.

The upward tilt to a satellite antenna measured in degrees required to aim the antenna at the communications satellite. When. aimed at the horizon, the elevation angle is zero. If it were tilted to a point directly overhead, the satellite antenna would have an elevation of 90 degrees.

A device used to electronically alter a signal so that it can only be viewed on a receiver equipped with a special decoder.

Energy Dispersal
A low-frequency waveform combined with the baseband signal prior to modulation, to spread the FM signal's peak power across the available transponder bandwidth in order to reduce the potential for creating interference to ground-based communications services.

End of Life of a satellite.

Equatorial Orbit
An orbit with a plane parallel to the earth's equator.

Engineering Service Circuit - The 300-3,400 Hertz voice plus teletype (S+DX) channel used for earth station-to-earth station and earth station-to-operations center communications for the purpose of system maintenance, coordination and general system information dissemination. In analog (FDM/FM) systems there are two S+DX channels available for this purpose in the 4,000-12,000 Hertz portion of the baseband. In digital systems there are one or two channels available which are usually convened to a 32 or 64 Kbps digital signal and combined with the earth station traffic digital bit stream. Modern ESC equipment interfaces with any mix of analog and digital satellite carriers, as well as backhaul terrestrial links to the local switching center.

The European Telecommunications Satellite Organization which is headquartered in Paris, France. It provides a satellite network for Europe and parts of North Africa and the Middle East.


FCC (Federal Communications Commission)
The U.S. federal regulatory body, consisting of five members, one of who is designated chairman, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, which regulates interstate communications under the Communications Act of 1934.

Ratio of antenna focal length to antenna diameter. A higher ratio means a shallower dish.

Frequency division multiple access. Refers to the use of multiple carriers within the same transponder where each uplink has been assigned frequency slot and bandwidth. This is usually employed in conjunction with Frequency Modulation.

This term has at least two key meanings within the field of satellite communications. It is used to describe the transmission of video programming from a distribution center. It is also used to describe the feed system of an antenna. The feed system may consist of a subreflector plus a feedhorn or a feedhorn only.

A satellite TV receiving antenna component that collects the signal reflected from the main surface reflector
and channels this signal into the low-noise amplifier (LNA).

FM - Frequency Modulation
A modulation method whereby the baseband signal varies the frequency of the carrier wave.

FM Threshold
That point at which the input signal power is just strong enough to enable the receiver demodulator circuitry successfully to detect and recover a good quality television picture from the incoming video carrier.

Focal Length
Distance from the center feed to the center of the dish.

Focal Point
The area toward which the primary reflector directs and concentrates the signal received.

A map of the signal strength showing the EIRP contours of equal signal strengths as they cover the earth's surface. Different satellite transponders on the same satellite will often have different footprints of the signal strength. The accuracy of EIRP footprints or contour data can improve with the operational age of the satellite. The actual EIRP levels of the satellite, however, tends to decrease slowly as the spacecraft ages.

Forward Error Correction (FEC)
Adds unique codes to the digital signal at the source so errors can be detected and corrected at the receiver.

The number of times that an alternating current goes through its complete cycle in one second of time. One cycle per second is also referred to as one hertz; 1000 cycles per second, one kilohertz; 1,000,000 cycles per second, one megahertz: and 1,000,000,000 cycles per second, one gigahertz.

Frequency Coordination
A process to eliminate frequency interference between different satellite systems or between terrestrial microwave systems and satellites. In the U.S. this activity relies upon a computerized service utilizing an extensive database to analyze potential microwave interference problems that arise between organizations using the same microwave band. As the same C-band frequency spectrum is used by telephone networks and CATV companies when they are contemplating the installation of an earth station, they will often obtain a frequency coordination study to determine if any problems will exist.

Frequency Reuse
A technique which maximizes the capacity of a communications satellite through the use of sp
ecially isolated beam antennas and/or the use of dual polarities.


A measure of amplification expressed in dB.

GE Americon
This is a large U.S. corporation providing satellite systems for domestic communications.  Has ownership in some international satellites.

Refers to a geosynchronous satellite angle with zero inclination. so the satellite appears to hover over one spot on the earth's equator.

Geostationary Transfer Orbit
This orbit is in the equatorial plane. This type of orbit has an elliptical form, with a perigee at 200 km and an apogee at 35870 km.

The Clarke circular orbit above the equator. For a planet the size and mass of the earth, this point is 22,237 miles above the surface.

Gigahertz (GHz)
One billion cycles per second. Signals operating above 3 Gigahertz are known as microwaves. above 30 GHz they are know as millimeter waves. As one moves above the millimeter waves signals begin to take on the characteristics of Iightwaves.

Global Beam
An antenna down-link pattern used by the Intelsat satellites, which effectively covers one-third of the globe. Global beams are aimed at the center of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans by the respective Intelsat satellites, enabling all nations on each side of the ocean to receive the signal. Because they transmit to such a wide area, global beam transponders have significantly lower EIRP outputs at the surface of the Earth as compared to a US domestic satellite system which covers just the continental United States. Therefore, earth stations receiving global beam signals need antennas much larger in size (typically 10 meters and above (i.e.30 feet and up).

Gregorian Dual-reflector antenna system employing a paraboloidal main reflector and a concave ellipsoidal subreflector.

A mobile satellite system that  deployes a network of 48 satellites to create a global voice and data service. This system is backed by Qualcomm, Loral, and Alcatel. 

A figure of merit of an antenna and low noise amplifier combination expressed in dB. "G" is the net gain of the system and "T" is the noise temperature of the system. The higher the number, the better the system.

Guard Channel
Television channels are separated in the frequency spectrum by spacing them several megahertz apart. This unused space serves to prevent the adjacent television channels from interfering with each other.


Half Transponder
A method of transmitting two TV signals through a single transponder through the reduction of each TV signal's deviation and power level. Half-transponder TV carriers each operate typically 4 dB to 7 dB below single-carrier saturation power.

Electronic control center - generally located at the antenna site of a CATV system - usually including antennas, preamplifiers, frequency converters, demodulators and other related equipment which amplify, filter and convert incoming broadcast TV signals to cable system channels.

Heliosynchronous Orbit
At an altitude of 600 to 800 km and situated in a quasi-polar plane. The satellite is permanently visible
from that part of the Earth in sunlight. Heliosynchronous orbits are used for Earth observation or solar-study satellites.

Highly Elliptical Orbit. This is type of orbit used by the Russian Molniya Satellite system. It is also referred to as
Extremely Elliptical Orbit (EEO).

Hertz (Hz)
The name given to the basic measure of radio frequency characteristics. An electromagnetic wave completes a full oscillation from its positive to its negative pole and back again in what is known as a cycle. A single Hertz is thus equal to one cycle per second.

High Frequency (HF)
Radio frequencies within the range of 3,000 to 30,000 kilohertz. HF radio is known as

High-Power Satellite
Satellite with 100 watts or more of transponder RF power.

Hour Angle
Steering direction of a polar mount. An angle measured in the equatorial plane between the antenna beam and the meridian plane.

The master station through which all communications to, from and between micro terminals must flow. in the future satellites with on-board processing will allow hubs to be eliminated as MESH networks are able to connect all points in a network together.

Hughes Galaxy
A domestic U.S. satellite system which provides a range of telecommunications services.


INTELSAT Business Services.

International Frequency Registration Board of the ITU - International Telecommunications Union.  The IFRB regulates the allocation of satellite orbital locations.

The angle between the orbital plane of a satellite and the equatorial plane of the earth.

The International Maritime Satellite Organization operates a network of satellites for international transmissions for all types of international mobile services including maritime, aeronautical, and land mobile.

The International Telecommunications Satellite Organization operates a network of satellites for international transmissions.

Energy which tends to interfere with the reception of the desired signals, such as fading from airline flights, RF interference from adjacent channels, or ghosting from reflecting objects such as mountains and buildings.

Inter Satellite Link - ISL
Radio or optical communications links between satellites.  They serve to interconnect constellations of satellites.

The international entity formed by the Soviet Union to provide international communications via a network of Sovie
t satellites.

An integrated receiver and decoder for reception of a transmission of voice, video and data.

Iridium Satellite System
This was a 66 satellite network designed for mobile telephone use and is now defunct.

ISDN - Integrated Services Digital Network.
A CCITT standard for integrated transmission of voice, video and data. Bandwidths include: Basic Rate Interface - BR (144 Kbps - 2 B & 1 D channel) and Primary Rate - PRI (1.544 and 2.048 Mbps).

International Standards Organization. Develops standards such as JPEG and MPEG. Closely allied with the CCITT.

Isotropic Antenna
A hypothetical omnidirectional point-source antenna that serves as an engineering reference for the measurement of antenna gain.

International Telecommunication Union.


Jammer -
An active electronic counter-measures (ECM) device designed to deny intelligence to unfriendly detectors or to disrupt communications.

ISO Joint Picture Expert Group standard for the compression of still pictures.


Ka Band
The frequency range from 18 to 31 GHz.

Kilobits per second. Refers to transmission speed of 1,000 bits per second.

Kelvin (K)
The temperature measurement scale used in the scientific community. Zero K represents absolute zero, and corresponds to minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 273 Celsius. Thermal noise characteristics of LNA are measured in Kelvins.

Kilohertz (kHz)
Refers to a unit of frequency equal to 1,000 Hertz.

A microwave tube which uses the interaction between an electron beam and the RF energy on microwave cavities to provide signal amplification. The klystron operates on principles of velocity modulation very similar to those in a TWT except that klystron interaction takes place at discrete locations along the electron beam. Common types of klystrons are the reflex klystron (an oscillator having only one cavity), two-cavity klystron amplifiers and oscillators, and multi-cavity klystron amplifiers.

Ku Band
The frequency range from 10.9 to 17 GHz.


The frequency range from 0.5 to 1.5 GHz. Also used to refer to the 950 to 1450MHz used for mobile communications.

Leased Line
A dedicated circuit typically supplied by the telephone company.

Low Noise Amplifier (LNA)
This is the preamplifier between the antenna and the earth station receiver. For maximum effectiveness, it must be located as near the antenna as possible, and is usually attached directly to the antenna receive port. The LNA is especially designed to contribute the least amount of thermal noise to the received signal.

Low Noise Block Downconverter (LNB)
A combination Low Noise Amplifier and downconverter built into one device attached to the feed.

Low Noise Converter (LNC)
A combination Low Noise Amplifier and down converter built into one antenna-mounted package.

Low Orbit
At an altitude of 200 to 300 km this orbit is used for certain types of scientific or observation satellites, which can
view a different part of the Earth beneath them on each orbit revolution, as they overfly both hemispheres.

Low-Power Satellite
Satellite with transmit RF power below 30 watts.


MAC (A, B, C, D2)
Multiplexed analog component color video transmission system. Subtypes refer to the various methods used to transmit audio and data signals.

The amount of signal in dB by which the satellite system exceeds the minimum levels required for operation.

Master Antenna Television (MATV)
An antenna system that serves a concentration of television sets such as in apartment buildings, hotels or motels.

Medium-Power Satellite
Satellite generating transmit power levels ranging from 30 to 100 watts.

Megahertz (MHz)
Refers to a frequency equal to one million Hertz, or cycles per second.

Line-of sight, point-to-point transmission of signals at high frequency. Many CATV systems receive some television signals from a distant antenna location with the antenna and the system connected by microwave relay. Microwaves are also used for data, voice, and indeed all types of information transmission. The growth of fiber optic networks have tended to curtail the growth and use of microwave relays.

Microwave Interference
Interference which occurs when an earth station aimed at a distant satellite picks up a second, often stronger signal, from a local telephone terrestrial microwave relay transmitter. Microwave interference can also be produced by nearby radar transmitters as well as the sun itself. Relocating the antenna by only several feet will often completely eliminate the microwave interference.

A communications device that modulates signals at the transmitting end and demodulates them at the receiving end.

The process of manipulating the frequency or amplitude of a carrier in relation to an incoming video, voice or data signal.

A device which modulates a carrier. Modulators are found as components in broadcasting transmitters and in satellite transponders. Modulators are also used by CATV companies to place a baseband video television signal onto a desired VHF or UHF channel. Home video tape recorders also have built-in modulators which enable the recorded video information to be played back using a television receiver tuned to VHF channel 3 or 4.


The Russian domestic satellite system which operated with highly elliptical satellites which overlooked the high latitudes of the territories of the USSR.


The Moving Pictures Experts Group, the television industry's informal standards group.

The agreed standard covering the compression of data (coding and encoding) for digital television.

Main Provile at High Level - The agreed much higher bit-rate system adopted to provide high definition television in wide screen format.

Multiple Access
The ability of more than one user to have access to a transponder.

Multiple System Operator (MSO)
A company that operates more than one cable television system.

Multipoint Distribution System (MDS)
A common carrier licensed by the FCC to operate a broadcast-like omnidirectional microwave transmission facility within a given city typically carrying television signals

Multicast is a subset of broadcast that extends the broadcast concept of one to many by allowing "the sending of one transmission to many users in a defined group, but not necessarily to all users in that group."

Techniques that allow a number of simultaneous transmissions over a single circuit.

A Multiplexer. Combines several different signals (e.g. video, audio, data) onto a single communication channel for transmission. Demultiplexing separates each signal at the receiving end.


National Association of Broadcasters.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

The U.S. agency which administers the American space program, including the deployment of commercial and military satellites via a fleet of space shuttle vehicles.

National Space Development Agency of Japan.

National Cable Television Association.

Any unwanted and unmodulated energy that is always present to some extent within any signal.

Noise Figure (NF)
A term which is a figure of merit of a device, such as an LNA or receiver, expressed in dB, which compares the device with a perfect device.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is a unit of the Department of Commerce that address U.S. government telecommunications policy, standards setting and radio spectrum allocation.

Nutation Damping
The process of correcting the nutational effects of a spinning satellite which are similar in effect to a wobbling top. Active nutation controls use thruster jets.

NTSC - National Television Standards Committee
A video standard established by the United States (RCA/NBC} and adopted by numerous other countries. This is a 525-line video with 3.58-MHz chroma subcarrier and 60 cycles per second.


The Office of Telecommunications of the United Kingdom government. This unit a part of the Department of Industries regulates telecommunications in the United Kingdom.

Orbital Period
The time that it takes a satellite to complete one circumnavigation of its orbit.


Packet Switching
Data transmission method that divides messages into standard-sized packets for greater efficiency of routing and transport through a network.

PAL - Phase Alternation System
The German developed TV standard based upon 50 cycles.per second and 625 lines.

Parabolic Antenna
The most frequently found satellite TV antenna, it takes its name from the shape of the dish described mathematically as a parabola. The function of the parabolic shape is to focus the weak microwave signal hitting the surface of the dish into a single focal point in front of the dish. It is at this point that the feedhorn is usually located.

PBS (Public Broadcasting System)

A domestic USA television and radio broadcast network.

The point in an elliptical satellite orbit which is closest to the surface of the earth.

Perigee Kick Motor (PKM)
Rocket motor fired to inject a satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit from a low earth orbit especially that of a STS or Shuttle-based orbit of 300 to 500 miles altitude.

The amount of time that a satellite takes to complete one revolution of its orbit.

Phase Alternation System (PAL)
A European color television system incompatible with the US NTSC television system.

Phase-Locked Loop (PLL)
A type of electronic circuit used to demodulate satellite signals.


A technique used by the satellite designer to increase the capacity of the satellite transmission channels by reusing the satellite transponder frequencies. In linear cross polarization schemes, half of the transponders beam their signals to earth in a vertically polarized mode; the other half horizontally polarize their down links. Although the two sets of frequencies overlap, they are 90 degree out of phase, and will not interfere with each other. To successfully receive and decode these signals on earth, the earth station must be outfitted with a properly polarized feedhorn to select the vertically or horizontally polarized signals as desired.

In some installations, the feedhorn has the capability of receiving the vertical and horizontal transponder signals simultaneously, and routing them into separate LNAs for delivery to two or more satellite television receivers. Unlike most domestic satellites, the Intelsat series use a technique known as left-hand and right-hand circular polarization.

Polarization Rotator
A device that can be manually or automatically adjusted to select one of two orthogonal polarizations.

Polar Mount
Antenna mechanism permitting steering in both elevation and azimuth through rotation about a single axis. While an astronomer's polar mount has its axis parallel to that of the earth, satellite earth stations utilize a modified polar mount geometry that incorporates a declination offset.

Polar Orbit
An orbit with its plane aligned in parallel with the polar axis of the earth

Protected-Use Transponder
A satellite transponder provided by the common carrier to a programmer with a built-in insurance policy. If the protected-use transponder fails, the common carrier guarantees the programmer that it will switch over to another transponder, sometimes pre-empting some other non-protected programmer from the other transponder.

PTT - Post Telephone and Telegraph Administration
Refers to operating agencies directly or indirectly controlled by governments in charge of telecommunications services in most countries of the world.

Pulse Code Modulation
A time division modulation technique in which analog signals are sampled and quantized at periodic intervals into digital signals. The values observed are typically represented by a coded arrangement of 8 bits of which one may be for parity.


Quadrature Phase Shift Keying is a digital modulation technique in which the carrier phase can have one of four
possible values of 0, 90, 180, 270 degrees on the equivalent of a 90 degrree rotation. There are even more advanced concepts based upon 8-phase (45 degree rotation), 16 phase (22.5 degree rotation) and so on to 32 phase, etc.


Rain Outage
Loss of signal at Ku or Ka Band frequencies due to absorption and increased sky-noise temperature caused by heavy rainfall.

Receiver (Rx)
An electronic device which enables a particular satellite signal to be separated from all others being received by an earth station, and converts the signal format into a format for video, voice or data.

Receiver Sensitivity
Expressed in dBm this tells how much power the detector must receive to achieve a specific baseband performance, such as a specified bit error rate or signal to noise ratio.

RF Adaptor
An add-on modulator which interconnects the output of the satellite television receiver to the input (antenna  terminals) of the user's television set. The RF adaptor converts the baseband video signal coming from the satellite receiver to a radio frequency RF signal which can be tuned in by the television set on VHF channel 3 or 4.

Network layer device that determines the optimal path along which network traffic should be forwarded. Routers forward packets from one network to another based on network layer information.


A sophisticated electronic communications relay station orbiting 22,237 miles above the equator moving in a fixed orbit at the same speed and direction of the earth (about 7,000 mph east to west).

Satellite Terminal
A receive-only satellite earth station consisting of an antenna reflector (typically parabolic in shape), a feedhorn, a low-noise amplifier (LNA), a down converter and a receiver.

SAW (Surface Acoustic Wave)
A type of steep-skirted filter used in the baseband or IF section of satellite reception and transmission equipment.

Scalar Feed
A type of horn antenna feed which uses a series of concentric rings to capture signals that have been reflected toward the focal point of a parabolic antenna.

A device used to electronically alter a signal so that it can only be viewed or heard on a receiver equipped with a special decoder.

A color television. system developed by the French and used in the USSR. Secam operates with 625 lines per picture frame and 50 cycles per second, but is incompatible in operation with the European PAL system or the U.S. NTSC system.

SFD - Stauration Flux Density
The power required to achieve saturation of a single repeater channel on the satellite.

Off-axis response of an antenna.

Signal to Noise Ratio (S/N)
The ratio of the signal power and noise power. A video S/N of 54 to 56 dB is considered to be an excellent S/N, that is, of broadcast quality. A video S/N of 48 to 52 dB is considered to be a good S/N at the headend for Cable TV.

An organization formed in the mid 1980's to monitor frequency re-use.

Simplex Transmission
Capability for transmission in only one direction between sending station and receiving station.

Single-Channel-Per-Carrier (SCPC)
A method used to transmit a large number of signals over a single satellite transponder.

Single Sideband (SSB)
A form of amplitude modulation (AM) whereby one of the sidebands and the AM carrier are suppressed.

An adjustment that compensates for slight variance in angle between identical senses of polarity generated by two or more satellites.

Slant Range
The length of the path between a communications satellite and an associated earth station.

That longitudinal position in the geosynchronous orbit into which a communications satellite is "parked". Above the United States, communications satellites are typically positioned in slots which are based at two to three degree intervals.

SMATV (Satellite Master Antenna System)
The adding of an earth station to a MATV system to receive satellite programs.

Satellite news gathering usually with a transportable uplink truck.

A form of noise picked up by a television receiver caused by a weak signal. Snow is characterized by alternate dark and light dots appearing randomly on the picture tube. To eliminate snow, a more sensitive receive antenna must be used, or better amplification must be provided in the receiver (or both).

Solar Outage
Solar outages occur when an antenna is looking at a satellite, and the sun passes behind or near the satellite and within the field of view of the antenna. This field of view is usually wider than the beamwidth. Solar outages can be exactly predicted as to the timing for each site.

A form of satellite television "snow" caused by a weak signal. Unlike terrestrial VHF and UHF television snow which appears to have a softer texture, sparklies are sharper and more angular noise "blips". As with terrestrial reception, to eliminate sparklies, either the satellite antenna must be increased in size, or the low noise amplifier must be replaced with one which has a lower noise temperature.

The range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used in transmission of voice, data and television.

Satellite signal that falls on locations outside the beam pattern's defined edge of coverage.

Spin Stabilization
A form of satellite stabilization and attitude control which is achieved through spinning the exterior of the spacecraft about its axis at a fixed rate.

A passive device (one with no active electronic components) which distributes a television signal carried on a cable in two or more paths and sends it to a number of receivers simultaneously.

Spot Beam
A focused antenna pattern sent to a limited geographical area. Spot beams are used by domestic satellites to deliver certain transponder signals to geographically well defined areas such as Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

Spread Spectrum
The transmission of a signal using a much wider bandwidth and power than would normally be required. Spread spectrum also involves the use of narrower signals that are frequency hopped through various parts of the transponder. Both techniques produce low levels of interference Between the users. They also provide security in that the signals appear as though they were random noise to unauthorized earth stations. Both military and civil satellite applications have developed for spread spectrum transmissions.

Spread spectrum multiple access. Refers to a frequency multiple access or multiplexing technique.

Solid state power amplifier. A VSLI solid state device that is gradually replacing Traveling Wave Tubes in satellite communications systems because they are lighter weight and are more reliable.

Minor orbital adjustments that are conducted to maintain the satellite's orbital assignment within the allocated "box" within the geostationary arc.

A second signal "piggybacked" onto a main signal to carry additional information. In satellite television transmission, the video picture is transmitted over the main carrier. The corresponding audio is sent via an FM subcarrier. Some satellite transponders carry as many as four special audio or data subcarriers whose signals may or may not be related to the main programming.

Subsatellite Point
The unique spot over the earth's equator assigned to each geostationary satellite.

The frequency band from 216 to 600 MHz, used for fixed and mobile radios and additional television channels on a cable system.

Synchronization (Sync)
The process of orienting the transmitter and receiver circuits in the proper manner in order that they can be synchronized . Home television sets are synchronized by an incoming sync signal with the television cameras in the studios 60 times per second. The horizontal and vertical hold controls on the television set are used to set the receiver circuits to the approximate sync frequencies of incoming television picture and the sync pulses in the signal then fine tune the circuits to the exact frequency and phase.


The transmission bit rate of 1.544 millions bits per second. This is also equivalent to the ISDN Primary Rate Interface for the U.S. The European T1 or E1 transmission rate is 2.048 million bits per second.

T3 Channel (DS-3)
In North America, a digital channel which communicates at 45.304 Mbps.

An electronic multilocation, multiperson conference using audio, computer, slow-scan, or full-rate video systems.


The name of the U.S. proposed  LEO satellite system that would deploy 840 satellites for global telecommunications services.


The AT&T Corporation has maintained its trademark for the Telstar name and currently operates its domestic satellite system under the Telstar name.

Terrestrial TV
Ordinary "over the air" VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultrahigh frequency) television transmissions which are usually limited to an effective range of 100 miles or less. Terrestrial tv transmitters operate at frequencies between 54 megahertz and 890 megahertz, far lower than the l4/l2 and 6/4 billion hertz (gigahertz) microwave frequencies used by satellite transponders.

Three-Axis Stabilization
Type of spacecraft stabilization in which the body maintains a fixed attitude relative to the
orbital track and the earth's surface. The reference axes are roll, pinch, and yaw, by nautical analogy.

Threshold Extension
A technique used by satellite television receivers to improve the signal-to noise ratio of the receiver by approximately 3 db (50%). When using small receive-only antennas, a especially equipped receiver with a threshold extension feature can make the difference between obtaining a decent picture or no picture at all.

A small axial jet used during routine stationkeeping activities. These are often fueled bydrazine or bi-propellant. In time ion-engines will probably replace such thrusters.

TI - Terrestrial Interference
Interference to satellite reception caused by ground based microwave transmitting stations.


Transfer Orbit
A highly elliptical orbit which is used as an intermediate stage for placing satellites into geostationary orbit.

An electronic device consisting of oscillator, modulator and other circuits which produce a radio or television electromagnetic wave signal for radiation into the atmosphere by an antenna.

A combination receiver, frequency converter, and transmitter package, physically part of a communications satellite. Transponders have a typical output of five to ten watts, operate over a frequency band with a 36 to 72 megahertz bandwidth in the L, C, Ku, and sometimes Ka Bands or in effect typically in the microwave spectrum, except for mobile satellite communications. Communications satellites typically have between 12 and 24 onboard transponders although the INTELSAT VI at the extreme end has 50.

Transponder Hopping
A single TDMA equipped earth station can extend its capacity by having access to several down-link beams by hopping from one transponder to another. In such a configuration the number of available transponders must be equivalent to the square of the number of beams that are interconnected or cross-strapped.

Telecommunications Standardization Sector. The world standards setting organization resulting from the combination of the CCITT (Consultative Committee on Telephony and Telegraphy) and the CCIR (Consultative Committee on International Radio).

Refers to a system that is supplied, installed and sometimes managed by one vendor or manufacturer.

Television Receive Only terminals that use antenna reflectors and associated electronic equipment to receive and process television and audio communications via satellite. Typically small home systems.

The process of adjusting an electronic receiver circuit to optimize its performance.

TWT (Traveling-wave tube)
A microwave tube of special design using a broadband circuit in which a beam of electrons interacts continuously with a guided electromagnetic field to amplify microwave frequencies.

TWTA (Traveling-wave-tube amplifier)
A combination of a power supply, a modulator (for pulsed systems), and a traveling-wave tube, often packaged in a common enclosure.


Ultra-high Frequency (UHF)
Officially the band of frequencies ranging from 300 to 3000 MHz. In television use, refers to the set of frequencies starting at 470 MHz, The UHF channels are designated as 14 through 70.

A unicast application transmits a copy of every packet to every receiver.

The earth station used to transmit signals to a satellite

Ultra Small Aperture Terminal. This refers to very small terminals for  DBS and other satellite applications where the terminal can be very small (under 50 cms).


ITU-T standard describing a synchronous, physical layer protocol used for communications between a network access device and a packet network. V.35 is most commonly used in the United States and in Europe, and is recommended for speeds up to 48 Kbit/s.

Van Allen radiation belts
These are two high level radiation belts discovered by an Explorer Satellite designed by Dr. Van Allen of Cal Tech. These belts which are highly destructive to communications satellites consists of two belts of highly charged particles and high energy neutrons.

Vertical blanking interval.

Vertical Interval Test Signal
A method whereby broadcasters add test signals to the blanked portion of the vertical interval. Normally placed on lines 17 through 21 in both field one and two.

Very High Frequencies (VHF)
The range of frequencies extending from 30 to 300 MHz; also television channels 2 through 13.

Very small aperture terminal. Refers to small earth stations, usually in the 1.2 to 2.4 meter range. Small aperture terminals under 0.5 meters are sometimes referred to Ultra Small Aperture Terminals (USAT's)

Voltage Standing Wave Ratio. A measurement of mismatch in a cable, waveg