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A geocentric orbit, Earth-centered orbit, or Earth orbit involves any object orbiting Earth, such as the Moon or artificial satellites. In 1997, NASA estimated there were approximately 2,465 artificial satellite payloads orbiting Earth and 6,216 pieces of space debris as tracked by the Goddard Space Flight Center.More than 16,291 objects previously launched have undergone orbital decay and entered Earth's atmosphere.
A spacecraft enters orbit when its centripetal acceleration due to gravity is less than or equal to the centrifugal acceleration due to the horizontal component of its velocity. For a low Earth orbit, this velocity is about 7,800 m/s (28,100 km/h; 17,400 mph); by contrast, the fastest crewed airplane speed ever achieved (excluding speeds achieved by deorbiting spacecraft) was 2,200 m/s (7,900 km/h; 4,900 mph) in 1967 by the North American X-15. The energy required to reach Earth orbital velocity at an altitude of 600 km (370 mi) is about 36 MJ/kg, which is six times the energy needed merely to climb to the corresponding altitude.
Spacecraft with a perigee below about 2,000 km (1,200 mi) are subject to drag from the Earth's atmosphere, which decreases the orbital altitude. The rate of orbital decay depends on the satellite's cross-sectional area and mass, as well as variations in the air density of the upper atmosphere. Below about 300 km (190 mi), decay becomes more rapid with lifetimes measured in days. Once a satellite descends to 180 km (110 mi), it has only hours before it vaporizes in the atmosphere. The escape velocity required to pull free of Earth's gravitational field altogether and move into interplanetary space is about 11,200 m/s (40,300 km/h; 25,100 mph).
The following is a list of different geocentric orbit classifications.
the Earth's surface
|Speed||Orbital period||Specific orbital energy|
|Earth's own rotation at surface (for comparison— not an orbit)||6,378 km||0 km||465.1 m/s (1,674 km/h or 1,040 mph)||23 h 56 min 4.09 sec||−62.6 MJ/kg|
|Orbiting at Earth's surface (equator) theoretical||6,378 km||0 km||7.9 km/s (28,440 km/h or 17,672 mph)||1 h 24 min 18 sec||−31.2 MJ/kg|
|Low Earth orbit||6,600–8,400 km||200–2,000 km||1 h 29 min – 2 h 8 min||−29.8 MJ/kg|
|Molniya orbit||6,900–46,300 km||500–39,900 km||1.5–10.0 km/s (5,400–36,000 km/h or 3,335–22,370 mph) respectively||11 h 58 min||−4.7 MJ/kg|
|Geostationary||42,000 km||35,786 km||3.1 km/s (11,600 km/h or 6,935 mph)||23 h 56 min 4.09 sec||−4.6 MJ/kg|
|Orbit of the Moon||363,000–406,000 km||357,000–399,000 km||0.97–1.08 km/s (3,492–3,888 km/h or 2,170–2,416 mph) respectively||27.27 days||−0.5 MJ/kg|
In celestial mechanics, an orbit is the curved trajectory of an object such as the trajectory of a planet around a star, or of a natural satellite around a planet, or of an artificial satellite around an object or position in space such as a planet, moon, asteroid, or Lagrange point. Normally, orbit refers to a regularly repeating trajectory, although it may also refer to a non-repeating trajectory. To a close approximation, planets and satellites follow elliptic orbits, with the center of mass being orbited at a focal point of the ellipse, as described by Kepler's laws of planetary motion.
A geosynchronous orbit is an Earth-centered orbit with an orbital period that matches Earth's rotation on its axis, 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds. The synchronization of rotation and orbital period means that, for an observer on Earth's surface, an object in geosynchronous orbit returns to exactly the same position in the sky after a period of one sidereal day. Over the course of a day, the object's position in the sky may remain still or trace out a path, typically in a figure-8 form, whose precise characteristics depend on the orbit's inclination and eccentricity. A circular geosynchronous orbit has a constant altitude of 35,786 km (22,236 mi).
A geostationary orbit, also referred to as a geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO), is a circular geosynchronous orbit 35,786 km (22,236 mi) in altitude above Earth's equator, 42,164 km (26,199 mi) in radius from Earth's center, and following the direction of Earth's rotation.
A low Earth orbit (LEO) is an orbit around Earth with a period of 128 minutes or less and an eccentricity less than 0.25. Most of the artificial objects in outer space are in LEO, with an altitude never more than about one-third of the radius of Earth.
In astronautics, the Hohmann transfer orbit is an orbital maneuver used to transfer a spacecraft between two orbits of different altitudes around a central body. Examples would be used for travel between low Earth orbit and the Moon, or another solar planet or asteroid. In the idealized case, the initial and target orbits are both circular and coplanar. The maneuver is accomplished by placing the craft into an elliptical transfer orbit that is tangential to both the initial and target orbits. The maneuver uses two impulsive engine burns: the first establishes the transfer orbit, and the second adjusts the orbit to match the target.
A geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or geosynchronous transfer orbit is a type of geocentric orbit. Satellites that are destined for geosynchronous (GSO) or geostationary orbit (GEO) are (almost) always put into a GTO as an intermediate step for reaching their final orbit.
Orbital mechanics or astrodynamics is the application of ballistics and celestial mechanics to the practical problems concerning the motion of rockets and other spacecraft. The motion of these objects is usually calculated from Newton's laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. Orbital mechanics is a core discipline within space-mission design and control.
The Molniya series satellites were military and communications satellites launched by the Soviet Union from 1965 to 2004. These satellites used highly eccentric elliptical orbits known as Molniya orbits, which have a long dwell time over high latitudes. They are suited for communications purposes in polar regions, in the same way that geostationary satellites are used for equatorial regions.
A Molniya orbit is a type of satellite orbit designed to provide communications and remote sensing coverage over high latitudes. It is a highly elliptical orbit with an inclination of 63.4 degrees, an argument of perigee of 270 degrees, and an orbital period of approximately half a sidereal day. The name comes from the Molniya satellites, a series of Soviet/Russian civilian and military communications satellites which have used this type of orbit since the mid-1960s.
An orbital spaceflight is a spaceflight in which a spacecraft is placed on a trajectory where it could remain in space for at least one orbit. To do this around the Earth, it must be on a free trajectory which has an altitude at perigee around 80 kilometers (50 mi); this is the boundary of space as defined by NASA, the US Air Force and the FAA. To remain in orbit at this altitude requires an orbital speed of ~7.8 km/s. Orbital speed is slower for higher orbits, but attaining them requires greater delta-v. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale has established the Kármán line at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) as a working definition for the boundary between aeronautics and astronautics. This is used because at an altitude of about 100 km (62 mi), as Theodore von Kármán calculated, a vehicle would have to travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself.
In astrodynamics and aerospace, a delta-v budget is an estimate of the total change in velocity (delta-v) required for a space mission. It is calculated as the sum of the delta-v required to perform each propulsive maneuver needed during the mission. As input to the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation, it determines how much propellant is required for a vehicle of given empty mass and propulsion system.
High Earth orbit (HEO) is a region of space around the Earth where satellites and other spacecraft are placed in orbits that are very high above the planet's atmosphere. This area is defined as an altitude higher than 35,786 km above sea level, which is the radius of a circular geosynchronous orbit. HEO extends to end of the Earth's sphere of influence. Satellites in HEO are primarily used for communication, navigation, scientific research, and military applications. A variety of satellites, such as TESS, have been placed in HEO.
A supersynchronous orbit is either an orbit with a period greater than that of a synchronous orbit, or just an orbit whose major axis is larger than that of a synchronous orbit. A synchronous orbit has a period equal to the rotational period of the body which contains the barycenter of the orbit.
A Tundra orbit is a highly elliptical geosynchronous orbit with a high inclination, an orbital period of one sidereal day, and a typical eccentricity between 0.2 and 0.3. A satellite placed in this orbit spends most of its time over a chosen area of the Earth, a phenomenon known as apogee dwell, which makes them particularly well suited for communications satellites serving high-latitude regions. The ground track of a satellite in a Tundra orbit is a closed figure 8 with a smaller loop over either the northern or southern hemisphere. This differentiates them from Molniya orbits designed to service high-latitude regions, which have the same inclination but half the period and do not loiter over a single region.
The Moon orbits Earth in the prograde direction and completes one revolution relative to the Vernal Equinox and the stars in about 27.32 days and one revolution relative to the Sun in about 29.53 days. Earth and the Moon orbit about their barycentre, which lies about 4,670 km (2,900 mi) from Earth's centre, forming a satellite system called the Earth–Moon system. On average, the distance to the Moon is about 385,000 km (239,000 mi) from Earth's centre, which corresponds to about 60 Earth radii or 1.282 light-seconds.
A medium Earth orbit (MEO) is an Earth-centered orbit with an altitude above a low Earth orbit (LEO) and below a high Earth orbit (HEO) – between 2,000 and 35,786 km above sea level.
A near-equatorial orbit is an orbit that lies close to the equatorial plane of the object orbited. Such an orbit has an inclination near 0°. On Earth, such orbits lie on the celestial equator, the great circle of the imaginary celestial sphere on the same plane as the equator of Earth. A geostationary orbit is a particular type of equatorial orbit, one which is geosynchronous. A satellite in a geostationary orbit appears stationary, always at the same point in the sky, to observers on the surface of the Earth.
A ground track or ground trace is the path on the surface of a planet directly below an aircraft's or satellite's trajectory. In the case of satellites, it is also known as a suborbital track or subsatellite track, and is the vertical projection of the satellite's orbit onto the surface of the Earth.
This glossary of astronomy is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to astronomy and cosmology, their sub-disciplines, and related fields. Astronomy is concerned with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth. The field of astronomy features an extensive vocabulary and a significant amount of jargon.