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Additional info for Dwell Magazine (October 2013)
In the next section, we shall in particular highlight the mandatory need to consider in parallel the coverage performances, the operational availability of the service, and with the total lifecycle cost of the system. 4. Cost-effectiveness proposed approach In terms of space segment cost, the total number of satellites Nsat that have to be manufactured during the operational lifetime of the system and the satellite unit cost Costsat are the main parameters. The cost of the launchers that are needed to orbit all these satellites is then to be added in order to obtain the total cost of the space system Costspace system regardless of others costs that can be put aside at first order when comparing alternative constellations that rely on similar architectures (eg :ground segments).
For "active" systems, the satellite must also provide the energy needed to receive the information in the first place. These are systems such as radar and lidar that illuminate a target and detect the return. The satellites must transmit a signal with enough energy to make the round trip journey to the source and back. The source adds the information to the signal, but returns only a fraction of the incident energy, depending on its cross-section. Note that under this definition, and contrary to intuition, communications satellites are "passive" since they simply relay received information to a destination node.
With a difference of only 2 satellites in size and a quasi-identical coverage performance, the constellation trade-off becomes clearly governed by the cost of the launchers: with current figures of launcher costs, the 36/9/4 constellation is preferred to the 34/17/6 constellation. It is shown on this simple example that the minimum number of satellites is not always the less expensive solution, and that a monocriterion approach that only relies on geometrical coverage considerations is not sufficient to optimize constellations.