How Does Radio Telemetry Work?


Radio telemetry is a facet of communications, defense, and wildlife management, and has been since the invention of radio transmission. As such, its use has extended from the military and defense industries and space exploration to oil rig maintenance and wildlife monitoring and conservation. Without radio telemetry, technology and hi-tech institutions would not function as they do. In order to understand how it works, however, it is best to know the basics and understand how it is applied in particular contexts.

What is Radio Telemetry?

  • "Radio telemetry" is comprised of two words that reveal its meaning. "Radio" refers to the use of radio waves to transmit data. "Telemetry" is the conveyance of data across a particular medium. So, in its most basic sense, radio telemetry is the communication of data across distances by radio waves. This seems like a basic concept in our day, but it was once revolutionary since it allows communications and commands to travel wirelessly over great distances.

Military Uses

  • The military makes extensive use of radio telemetry. Besides traditional radio communications, radio telemetry is the way that central command computers communicate data to command centers "in the field." Furthermore, guided weapons systems for missiles and unmanned drones use radio telemetry to receive navigation data from a distant controller. Conversely, sensors in the field can send environmental data back to headquarters to update commanders regarding conditions on the battlefield.

Uses in Space Exploration

  • Like the military, NASA uses radio telemetry to communicate with distant technology. In particular, satellites and deep-space probes use telemetry to complement on-board navigation systems as they make their way into outer space. They also use telemetry to send data back to earth. As distances in space are so vast, the communications between probes and earth often take a great deal of time to move back and forth.

Wildlife Preservation Application

  • Rangers in wildlife preserves and state parks use radio telemetry to track and monitor animals in the forest. Through the use of radio collars or implanted chips, radio signals from the animals return to central computers to allow the tracking of movement or eating patters. This helps us monitor animal population sizes and movements, especially for animals that are hard to locate or monitor, such as isolated or migratory animals.

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