Satellites are cool. To begin with, just the sheer fact that we've managed to get the technology into orbit makes them cool. Throw in their uses - from monitoring the movement of great white sharks to looking for asteroids streaking towards Earth - and they become even more amazing.

Here we take a look at some of the most recent technology advances and deployments.

Jaws

When great white sharks were recently spotted off the coast of Massachusetts in the US, scientists used the opportunity to tag the creatures with electronic tags that use satellite technology to record their travels.

The tags are known as PAT (pop-up archival transmitting) tags that attach to the dorsal fin of the shark and record its actions via the Argos research satellite network.

According to researchers, PAT tags do not have to be recovered. Rather, after a predetermined time, they break away from the fish and float to the surface, and then transmit data to Argos satellites.

NASA's Moon blaster

On its current space scouting mission, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is using a pumped-up communications device to deliver 461GB of data and images per day, at a rate of up to 100Mbps.

As the first high-data-rate K-band transmitter to fly on a NASA spacecraft, the 13in-long tube, called a Travelling Wave Tube Amplifier, is making it possible for NASA scientists to receive massive amounts of images and data about the Moon's surface and environment in preparation for a possible landing there in the future.

NEXT PAGE: Satellites on the cheap

  1. We look at some of the most advanced technology that's in orbit
  2. Satellites on the cheap
  3. The virtual satellite network
  4. The asteroid hunter
  5. The US FAA's satellite system

Let's take a look up and assess some of the advanced technology in orbit and the diverse tasks of those satellites.

Satellites on the cheap

Small, inexpensive cube-shaped satellites could be all the space rage if researchers have their way. The National Science Foundation is the US has awarded a grant to SRI International to tackle the first mission of tiny flying devices known as CubeSats.

CubeSats are tiny satellites with dimensions of100x100x100mm, weighing about 1kg and typically using commercial, off-the-shelf electronic components.

Developed through joint efforts from the California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University, CubeSats are expected to offer a cost-effective way of supporting space weather and atmospheric research, the NSF said.

The GPS quandary

The Global Positioning System satellites aren't new but they've certainly had their share of bad publicity this year. Most recently a report in May that said the current GPS satellite coverage may not be so ubiquitous in the future.

According to that report the US Air Force has struggled to successfully build GPS satellites within cost and schedule goals; it encountered significant technical problems that still threaten its delivery schedule.

NEXT PAGE: The virtual satellite network

  1. We look at some of the most advanced technology that's in orbit
  2. Satellites on the cheap
  3. The virtual satellite network
  4. The asteroid hunter
  5. The US FAA's satellite system

Let's take a look up and assess some of the advanced technology in orbit and the diverse tasks of those satellites.

The virtual satellite network

The scientists at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are developing an advanced space technology programme that ultimately aims to replace traditional satellites with clusters of wirelessly interconnected modules.

The programme, called the Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange, also known as the System F6, is intended to let the agency deploy individual pieces or what it calls 'fractionated modules' of current all-in-one satellites.

For example, each fractionated module would support a unique capability, such as command and control, data handling, guidance and navigation or payload.

Modules could replicate the functions of other modules as well. Such modules can be physically connected once in orbit or remain nearby to each other in a loose formation, or cluster, harnessed together through a wireless network they create a virtual satellite.

Satellite protection

The US Air Force laid out $29m recently to build space-based sensors that could detect threats or hazards and protect satellites in orbit.

Known as the Self-Awareness Space Situations Awareness, SASSA will develop and demonstrate a hardware/software architecture using a suite of threat warning instruments located on a satellite.

This will be accomplished by developing and demonstrating a payload that can monitor a space vehicle using threat warning instruments and can report hazards or threat indicators to ground operators.

NEXT PAGE: The asteroid hunter

  1. We look at some of the most advanced technology that's in orbit
  2. Satellites on the cheap
  3. The virtual satellite network
  4. The asteroid hunter
  5. The US FAA's satellite system

Let's take a look up and assess some of the advanced technology in orbit and the diverse tasks of those satellites.

The asteroid hunter

Canadian scientists are developing a microsatellite they say will detect and track asteroids and comets as well as other satellites.

The suitcase-sized Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) will twist and turn hundreds of times each day, orbiting from pole to pole every 50 minutes and almost always in sunlight.

The telescope has a sunshade that allows searching the sky to within 45 degrees of the Sun, a part of the sky difficult or impossible to observe from the ground, but where near-Earth asteroids are concentrated, researchers said.

NASA gets small

Last year NASA teamed with m2mi to develop very small satellites, called nanosats, for the development of telecommunications and networking services in space.

NASA says large groups of nanosatellites can be grouped in a constellation that will be placed in low Earth orbit to offer new telecommunications and networking systems and services.

NASA and m2mi will develop what they call fifth-generation telecommunications and networking systems for TCP/IP-based networks and related services.

NEXT PAGE: The US FAA's satellite system

  1. We look at some of the most advanced technology that's in orbit
  2. Satellites on the cheap
  3. The virtual satellite network
  4. The asteroid hunter
  5. The US FAA's satellite system

Let's take a look up and assess some of the advanced technology in orbit and the diverse tasks of those satellites.

The US FAA's satellite system

The US Federal Aviation Administration wants all aircraft flying in the country's busiest airspace to have satellite-based avionics by 2020.

Such systems would let air traffic controllers track aircraft by satellites using a satellite system known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B), which is 10 times more accurate than today's radar technology.

That 10-fold increase in the accuracy of satellite signals will allow air traffic controllers to reduce standard separation between aircraft, significantly increasing the number of aircraft that can be safely managed in the nation's skies, the FAA said.

Space weather

One of NASA's AIM satellite's goals is to study space weather phenomena. Last year it provided the first global-scale, full-season view of iridescent polar clouds that form 50 miles above Earth's surface known as 'Night-Shining' clouds.

Night Shining clouds form at a high altitude which lets them reflect sunlight long after the sun has set.

See also: $500m Google Earth satellite launches

  1. We look at some of the most advanced technology that's in orbit
  2. Satellites on the cheap
  3. The virtual satellite network
  4. The asteroid hunter
  5. The US FAA's satellite system