A medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite is one with an orbit within the range from a few hundred miles to a few thousand miles above the earth's surface. Satellites of this type orbit higher than low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, but lower than geostationary satellites.Content Continues Below
The orbital periods of MEO satellites range from about two to 12 hours. Some MEO satellites orbit in near perfect circles, and therefore have constant altitude and travel at a constant speed. Other MEO satellites revolve in elongated orbits. The perigee (lowest altitude) of an elliptical-orbit satellite is much less than its apogee (greatest altitude). The orbital speed is much greater near perigee than near apogee. As seen from a point on the surface, a satellite in an elongated orbit crosses the sky in just a few minutes when it is near perigee, as compared to several hours when it is near apogee. Elliptical-orbit satellites are easiest to access near apogee, because the earth-based antenna orientation does not have to be changed often, and the satellite is above the horizon for a fairly long time.
A fleet of several MEO satellites, with orbits properly coordinated, can provide global wireless communication coverage. Because MEO satellites are closer to the earth than geostationary satellites, earth-based transmitters with relatively low power and modest-sized antennas can access the system. Because MEO satellites orbit at higher altitudes than LEO satellites, the useful footprint (coverage area on the earth's surface) is greater for each satellite. Thus a global-coverage fleet of MEO satellites can have fewer members than a global-coverage fleet of LEO satellites.