Telecom Techniques Guide


What are the disadvantages of a MEO satellite?

What are the disadvantages of a MEO satellite?

Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites are positioned in an orbit that is higher than Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites but lower than Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites. While MEO satellites offer several advantages, such as a balance between coverage and latency, they also have some disadvantages. In this detailed explanation, we will explore the disadvantages of MEO satellites:

Limited Coverage Area:

MEO satellites provide coverage over a larger area compared to LEO satellites, but they have a more limited coverage area than GEO satellites. This means that a smaller portion of the Earth’s surface can be served by a single MEO satellite.

To achieve global coverage, a constellation of MEO satellites is typically required, which can be more complex and costly to deploy and maintain compared to a single GEO satellite.


While MEO satellites offer lower latency compared to GEO satellites, they still introduce some latency in data transmission. The round-trip time for signals to travel from the Earth to a MEO satellite and back is higher than for LEO satellites.

This latency can be a disadvantage in applications where real-time communication is critical, such as online gaming or certain financial transactions. Although MEO latency is lower than GEO, it may not meet the requirements of all applications.

Propagation Delay:

The longer distance between MEO satellites and ground stations results in increased signal propagation delay. This delay can affect the quality of voice and video calls, especially during satellite handovers when switching between satellites in a constellation.

Applications sensitive to propagation delay, such as voice and video conferencing, may experience noticeable delays that can impact user experience.

Higher Launch and Maintenance Costs:

Positioning and maintaining satellites in MEO require more energy and resources compared to LEO satellites. Launching payloads into MEO orbits is costlier, and maintaining the satellite constellation requires ongoing fuel and station-keeping efforts.

The higher operational and maintenance costs can make MEO satellite systems more expensive to operate than LEO systems, which can limit their affordability for certain applications.

Limited Capacity for User Terminals:

MEO satellites typically have a limited number of spot beams or coverage areas on Earth. This can lead to congestion in densely populated areas or regions with a high concentration of user terminals.

In areas where many users share the same satellite beam, network performance may degrade during peak usage times, impacting data speeds and quality of service.

Susceptibility to Space Debris:

MEO satellites operate in an orbit that is not as densely populated with space debris as LEO, but they are still vulnerable to collisions with debris. Collisions can cause satellite failures or create additional space debris, posing a risk to other satellites in the same orbit.

Mitigating the risk of space debris is a challenge for MEO satellite operators and requires careful monitoring and collision avoidance maneuvers.

Limited Satellite Redundancy:

Building and launching MEO satellites is a significant investment, and having a large constellation can be costly. Consequently, MEO satellite systems may have limited redundancy compared to LEO constellations, where multiple satellites can quickly replace a failed satellite.

Satellite redundancy is essential for maintaining continuous service, and the loss of a single MEO satellite can have a noticeable impact on coverage and capacity.

Weather-Dependent Signal Quality:

Like all satellite systems, MEO satellites are susceptible to weather-related signal degradation, particularly in regions with heavy rainfall, snow, or atmospheric disturbances.

Weather-related signal attenuation can affect the quality of satellite communications and may result in temporary service disruptions.

In summary, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites offer a compromise between the coverage area of Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites and the low latency of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. However, they have their own set of disadvantages, including limited coverage area, latency, propagation delay, higher launch and maintenance costs, limited capacity for user terminals, susceptibility to space debris, limited satellite redundancy, and weather-dependent signal quality. These disadvantages should be carefully considered when evaluating the suitability of MEO satellites for specific communication or navigation applications.

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