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What Are Satellites Used For?

Artist's Conception of Terra Satellite Orbiting Earth
A 21st Century Satellite Orbiting Earth

The first satellites were used mostly to take the measure of the new space environment and blaze a path for communications, weather, and navigation satellites and manned spaceflight.

The first communications satellites -- known as SCORE, ECHO, TELSTAR, RELAY, and SYNCOM -- were launched between 1958 and 1963.

The first weather satellite, TIROS, and the first navigation satellite, TRANSIT, were in 1960.

The U.S. military launched its first spysat, SAMOS, in 1961. Since then, lots of military reconnaissance satellites, including a model known as Big Bird, have been outfitted with elaborate photographic equipment and high-tech electronic snooping gear and sent to orbit on secret missions.

Following the original Sputnik in 1957, more than 22,000 useful payloads and useless chunks of space debris have been placed in orbit.

The majority of satellites have been built by Russia and the United States, but the countries of Western Europe in the European Space Agency, Japan, China, India, Canada, Israel, Brazil and others are actively engaged in satellite development.

Satellites are part of daily life, used for communications, weather forecasting, navigation, observing land, sea and air, other scientific research, and military reconnaissance. Hundreds of men and women have lived and worked aboard manned satellites -- space shuttles and space stations -- in Earth orbit.

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