A geosynchronous satellite is a satellite whose orbital track on the Earth repeats regularly over points on the Earth over time. If such a satellite's orbit lies over the equator and the orbit is circular, it is called a geostationary satellite. The orbits of the satellites are known as the geosynchronous orbit and geostationary orbit. Another type of geosynchronous orbit is the Tundra elliptical orbit.
A geosynchronous network is a communication network based on communication with or through geosynchronous satellites.
If a geosynchronous satellite's orbit is not exactly aligned with the equator, the orbit is known as an inclined orbit. It will appear (when viewed by someone on the ground) to oscillate daily around a fixed point in the sky. As the angle between the orbit and the equator decreases, the magnitude of this oscillation becomes smaller; when the orbit lies entirely over the equator, the satellite remains stationary relative to the Earth's surface – it is said to be geostationary.
Geostationary satellites appear to be fixed over one spot above the equator. Receiving and transmitting antennas on the earth do not need to track such a satellite. These antennas can be fixed in place and are much less expensive than tracking antennas. These satellites have revolutionized global communications, television broadcasting and weather forecasting, and have a number of important defense and intelligence applications.
One disadvantage of geostationary satellites is a result of their high altitude: radio signals take approximately 0.25 of a second to reach and return from the satellite, resulting in a small but significant signal delay. This delay increases the difficulty of telephone conversation and reduces the performance of common network protocols such as TCP/IP, but does not present a problem with non-interactive systems such as television broadcasts. There are a number of proprietary satellite data protocols that are designed to proxy TCP/IP connections over long-delay satellite links -- these are marketed as being a partial solution to the poor performance of native TCP over satellite links. TCP presumes that all loss is due to congestion, not errors, and probes link capacity with its "slow-start" algorithm, which only sends packets once it is known that earlier packets have been received. Slow start is very slow over a path using a geostationary satellite.
Another disadvantage of geostationary satellites is the incomplete geographical coverage, since ground stations at higher than roughly 60 degrees latitude have difficulty reliably receiving signals at low elevations. Satellite dishes in the Northern Hemisphere would need to be pointed almost directly towards the horizon. The signals would have to pass through the largest amount of atmosphere, and could even be blocked by land topography, vegetation or buildings. In the USSR, a practical solution was developed for this problem with the creation of special Molniya / Orbita inclined path satellite networks with elliptical orbits. Similar elliptical orbits are used for the Sirius Radio satellites.
The first geosynchronous satellite was Syncom 2, launched on a Delta rocket B booster from Cape Canaveral 26 July, 1963. It was used a few months later for the world's first satellite relayed telephone call, between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Nigerian Prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
The first geostationary communication satellite was Syncom 3, launched on August 19, 1964 with a Delta D launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral. The satellite, in orbit near the International Date Line, was used to telecast the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to the United States. It was the first television program to cross the Pacific ocean.