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1. (WO1998051022) HIGH LATITUDE GEOSTATIONARY SATELLITE SYSTEM
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What Is Claimed Is:
1 . A high latitude communications satellite system comprising:
a plurality of satellites disposed to move in respective elliptical orbits, each said orbit being defined by an identical inclination value and defining from a terrestrial observation point a first pair of loops comprising a first minor loop and a first major loop disposed at a first longitudinal position, and a second pair of loops comprising a second minor loop and second major loop disposed at a second longitudinal position, said first pair of loops being separated from said corresponding second pair of loops by 180° longitude, and being at the same latitude positions, and both said first pair of loops and said second pair of loops being wholly disposed in one of the northern and southern hemispheres at a minimum angular separation from geostationary orbit of not less than 45°; and
a plurality of ground-based, directive and non-tracking narrow beam antennas, each operative to provide pointing to and communications with each of said satellites while it is in a portion of the first or second minor loops.

2. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein said plurality comprises 4 satellites, each having an orbit duration of approximately 12 hours.

3. The communication satellite system of claim 2 wherein said loop spans approximately 9 degrees latitude and approximately 1 degree longitude.

4. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein a first satellite which is exiting one of said minor loops will be substantially co-located with a second satellite which is concurrently entering said one minor loop.

5. The communication satellite system of claim 4 wherein said first satellite exiting said minor loop has been in communication with one of said ground-based antennas during at least a portion of time said first satellite is in said minor loop, and said satellite entering said minor loop will be in communication with said same ground-based antenna.

6. The communication satellite system of claim 5 wherein communication from said first satellite to said ground antennas station is transferred to said second satellite, the timing of said transfer being established on board said satellites using timing provided directly to said first and second satellites by a GPS satellite in a constellation of GPS satellites.

7. The communication satellite system of claim 6 wherein said transfer of communications is accomplished by a direct communications link between said first and said second satellites.

8. The communication satellite system of claim 7 wherein said transfer of communications is accomplished using at least one of GPS and time reference pulses from transmitting ground stations.

9. The communication satellite system of claim 5 wherein timing differences between transmissions from said satellites are minimized.

10. The communication satellite system of claim 5 wherein said transfer occurs without any commands or controls from the ground.

1 1 . The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein each said orbit has a semi-major axis of approximately 26450km, an inclination of approximately 63.4° and the right ascension of the ascending node (RAAN) is equally spaced around the equator.

12. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein said orbit has an eccentricity selected to minimize longitudinal and lateral excursions of the ground track in the operational arc of the orbit.

13. The communication satellite system of claim 12 wherein said system comprises 4 satellites and said orbit has an eccentricity of 0.7237.

14. The communication satellite system of claim 12 wherein said system comprises 3 satellites and said orbit has an eccentricity of 0.7137.

15. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein each of said plurality of satellites comprises a phased array antenna operative to change its overall beam pattern in response to commands based on the location of said satellite in orbit.

16. The communication satellite system of claim 15 wherein said beam pattern is switched automatically, based on preprogrammed on board satellite control, while said satellite is outside of said minor loops.

17. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein said plurality comprises 3 satellites, each having an orbit duration of approximately 12 hours.

18. The communication satellite system of claim 17 wherein said first and second minor loops spans approximately 18.4 degrees of latitude and 2.02 degree of longitude.

19. The communication satellite system of claim 1 wherein each said satellite comprises an inter-satellite link apparatus for communicating timing information between pairs of said satellites when they are proximate as they move along their respective orbits.

20. The communication satellite system of claim 19 further comprising a GPS system-based source of GPS timing information, wherein each said satellite comprises GPS link apparatus for receiving GPS timing information from said GPS system-based source.

21 . The communication satellite system of claim 20 wherein said link apparatus establishes a timing communication between proximate satellites prior to becoming co-located at said minor loop.

22. The communication satellite system of claim 1 , wherein said satellites comprise 3-axis stabilized mechanisms and single gimbaled solar arrays, further comprising:
means for removing the rotation of the satellite antenna about the target point in order to avoid rotation of the beam during the operational period while said satellite is in said minor loop.

23. The communication satellite system of claim 22 wherein said 3-axis stabilized mechanisms comprise a de-spun antenna means within said spacecraft body.

24. A method of switching active communication links from a first one to a second one of a plurality of satellites disposed to move in respective orbits defined in separate planes, all of said orbits having a common inclination and defining to a terrestrial observer at a ground-based antenna location a common pair of apparent loops, comprising a minor loop and a major loop, said minor loop being defined between a maximum latitude of approximately 63.4° and a minimum latitude of greater than approximately 45° and at a predetermined angular separation from geostationary orbit, said communication links being defined between said satellites and a plurality of ground-based antenna operative to communicate with said satellites while they are in said minor loop, comprising:
a) detecting and storing at each of said first and second satellites GPS timing information:
b) transmitting from each of said first and second satellites and receiving at said second and first satellites, respective GPS timing information via an inter-satellite link when they are proximate within their elliptical orbit:
c) detecting when the time difference between said GPS signals is a minimum:
d) responsive to said detecting step, commanding the activation of an inactive one of said satellite communication transmitters and the inactivation of a corresponding active one of said satellite communication transmitters.

25. The communication satellite method of claim 24 further comprising:
receiving from the ground a synchronizing pulse at each said satellites, and if at the time the synchronizing pulses are separated in time by a value greater than the difference in time of arrival from a common ground station ground-based source of GPS timing information.

26. The communication satellite method of claim 24 wherein the commanding the activation of an inactive one of said satellite communication transmitters does not occur beyond a loop cross over point after said satellite enters said minor loop.

27. The communication satellite method of claim 24 wherein the commanding the activation of an inactive one of said satellite communication transmitters occurs at a minimum range and angular separation as viewed from the ground.