"Earth orbit" and "Earth orbiter" redirect here. For the motion of the Earth around the Sun, see
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geocentric orbit involves any object orbiting the Earth, such as the Moon or artificial satellites. In 1997 NASA estimated there were approximately 2,465 artificial satellite payloads orbiting the Earth and 6,216 pieces of space debris as tracked by the Goddard Space Flight Center. Over 16,291 previously launched objects have [1 ] decayed into the Earth's atmosphere. [1 ]
List of terms and concepts [ edit ]
The following words may have more than one definition or other non-Earth specific definition(s).
In the spirit of brevity some of the definitions have been altered or
to reflect only their usage on this page.
Altitude as used here, the height of an object above the average surface of the Earth's oceans.
Analemma a term in
astronomy used to describe the plot of the positions of the Sun on the celestial sphere throughout one year. Closely resembles a figure-eight.
Apogee is the farthest point that a satellite or
celestial body can go from Earth, at which the orbital velocity will be at its minimum.
Eccentricity a measure of how much an orbit deviates from a perfect circle. Eccentricity is strictly defined for all
circular and elliptical orbits, and parabolic and hyperbolic trajectories.
Equatorial plane as used here, an imaginary
plane extending from the equator on the Earth to the celestial sphere.
Escape velocity as used here, the minimum
velocity an object without propulsion needs to have to move away indefinitely from the Earth. An object at this velocity will enter a parabolic trajectory; above this velocity it will enter a hyperbolic trajectory.
integral of a force over the time during which it acts. Measured in ( N· sec or lb * sec).
angle between a reference plane and another plane or axis. In the sense discussed here the reference plane is the Earth's equatorial plane.
Orbital characteristics the six parameters of the
Keplerian elements needed to specify that orbit uniquely.
Orbital period as defined here, time it takes a satellite to make one full orbit around the Earth.
Perigee is the nearest approach point of a satellite or celestial body from Earth, at which the orbital velocity will be at its maximum.
Sidereal day the time it takes for a
celestial object to rotate 360°. For the Earth this is: 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.091 seconds.
Solar time as used here, the local time as measured by a
Velocity an object's speed in a particular direction. Since velocity is defined as a
vector, both speed and direction are required to define it.
Geocentric orbit types [ edit ]
The following is a list of different geocentric orbit classifications.
Altitude classifications [ edit ]
Low (cyan) and Medium (yellow) Earth orbit regions to scale. The black dashed line is the geosynchronous orbit. The green dashed line is the 20,230 km orbit used for
- Geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 160 kilometers (100 statute miles) to 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) above Low Earth orbit (LEO) mean sea level. At 160 km, one revolution takes approximately 90 minutes, and the circular orbital speed is 8,000 metres per second (26,000 ft/s).
- Geocentric orbits with altitudes at apogee ranging between 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) and that of the Medium Earth orbit (MEO) geosynchronous orbit at 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi).
- Geocentric circular orbit with an altitude of 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi). The period of the orbit equals one Geosynchronous orbit (GEO) sidereal day, coinciding with the rotation period of the Earth. The speed is approximately 3,000 metres per second (9,800 ft/s).
- Geocentric orbits with altitudes at apogee higher than that of the geosynchronous orbit. A special case of high Earth orbit is the High Earth orbit (HEO) highly elliptical orbit, where altitude at perigee is less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi). [2 ]
Inclination classifications [ edit ]
- An orbit whose Inclined orbit inclination in reference to the equatorial plane is not 0.
- A satellite that passes above or nearly above both poles of the planet on each revolution. Therefore it has an inclination of (or very close to) 90 Polar orbit degrees.
- A nearly Polar sun synchronous orbit polar orbit that passes the equator at the same local time on every pass. Useful for image-taking satellites because shadows will be the same on every pass.
Eccentricity classifications [ edit ]
- An orbit that has an Circular orbit eccentricity of 0 and whose path traces a circle.
- An orbit with an Elliptic orbit eccentricity greater than 0 and less than 1 whose orbit traces the path of an ellipse.
- An orbital maneuver that moves a spacecraft from one Hohmann transfer orbit circular orbit to another using two engine impulses. This maneuver was named after Walter Hohmann.
- A geocentric- Geosynchronous transfer orbit elliptic orbit where the perigee is at the altitude of a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and the apogee at the altitude of a geosynchronous orbit.
- Geocentric orbit with apogee above 35,786 km and low perigee (about 1,000 km) that result in long dwell times near apogee. Highly elliptical orbit (HEO)
- A Molniya orbit highly elliptical orbit with inclination of 63.4° and orbital period of ½ of a sidereal day (roughly 12 hours). Such a satellite spends most of its time over a designated area of the Earth.
- A Tundra orbit highly elliptical orbit with inclination of 63.4° and orbital period of one sidereal day (roughly 24 hours). Such a satellite spends most of its time over a designated area of the Earth.
- An "orbit" with eccentricity greater than 1. The object's Hyperbolic trajectory velocity reaches some value in excess of the escape velocity, therefore it will escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and continue to travel infinitely with a velocity (relative to Earth) decelerating to some finite value, known as the hyperbolic excess velocity.
Escape Trajectory - This trajectory must be used to launch an interplanetary probe away from Earth, because the excess over escape velocity is what changes its heliocentric orbit from that of Earth.
Capture Trajectory - This is the mirror image of the escape trajectory; an object traveling with sufficient speed, not aimed directly at Earth, will move toward it and accelerate. In the absence of a decelerating engine impulse to put it into orbit, it will follow the escape trajectory after periapsis.
- An "orbit" with eccentricity exactly equal to 1. The object's Parabolic trajectory velocity equals the escape velocity, therefore it will escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and continue to travel with a velocity (relative to Earth) decelerating to 0. A spacecraft launched from Earth with this velocity would travel some distance away from it, but follow it around the Sun in the same heliocentric orbit. It is possible, but not likely that an object approaching Earth could follow a parabolic capture trajectory, but speed and direction would have to be precise.
Directional classifications [ edit ]
- an orbit in which the projection of the object onto the equatorial plane revolves about the Earth in the same direction as the rotation of the Earth. Prograde orbit
- an orbit in which the projection of the object onto the equatorial plane revolves about the Earth in the direction opposite that of the rotation of the Earth. Retrograde orbit
Geosynchronous classifications [ edit ]
- An orbit with an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,600 mi) and an Semi-synchronous orbit (SSO) orbital period of approximately 12 hours
- Orbits with an altitude of approximately 35,786 km (22,236 mi). Such a satellite would trace an Geosynchronous orbit (GEO) analemma (figure 8) in the sky.
: A Geostationary orbit (GSO) geosynchronous orbit with an inclination of zero. To an observer on the ground this satellite would appear as a fixed point in the sky.
- Another name for a geostationary orbit. Named after the writer Clarke orbit Arthur C. Clarke.
Earth orbital : The libration points libration points for objects orbiting Earth are at 105 degrees west and 75 degrees east. More than 160 satellites are gathered at these two points. [3 ]
- A disposal / storage orbit above GSO/GEO. Satellites will drift west. Supersynchronous orbit
- A drift orbit close to but below GSO/GEO. Satellites will drift east. Subsynchronous orbit
- An orbit a few hundred kilometers above Graveyard orbit geosynchronous that satellites are moved into at the end of their operation.
Disposal orbit - A synonym for graveyard orbit.
Junk orbit - A synonym for graveyard orbit.
Special classifications [ edit ]
- An orbit which combines altitude and Sun-synchronous orbit inclination in such a way that the satellite passes over any given point of the planet's surface at the same local solar time. Such an orbit can place a satellite in constant sunlight and is useful for imaging, spy, and weather satellites.
- The Moon orbit orbital characteristics of Earth's Moon. Average altitude of 384,403 kilometres (238,857 mi), elliptical– inclined orbit.
Non-geocentric classifications [ edit ]
- An orbit that appears to a ground observer to be orbiting a planet but is actually in Horseshoe orbit co-orbit with it. See asteroids 3753 (Cruithne) and 2002 AA. 29
- A maneuver where a Exo-orbit spacecraft approaches the height of orbit but lacks the velocity to sustain it.
- A synonym for Sub-orbital spaceflight Exo-orbit.
Tangential velocities at altitude [ edit ]
distance Altitude above
the Earth's surface
Specific orbital energy
Standing on Earth's surface at the equator (for comparison -- not an orbit) 6,378 km
465.1 m/s (1,040 mph) 1 day (24h)
Orbiting at Earth's surface (equator)
7.9 km/s (17,672 mph)
1 h 24 min 18 sec
Low Earth orbit 6,600 to 8,400 km
200 to 2,000 km
circular orbit: 6.9 to 7.8 km/s (15,430 mph to 17,450 mph) respectively
elliptic orbit: 6.5 to 8.2 km/s respectively 1 h 29 min to 2 h 8 min
Molniya orbit 6,900 to 46,300 km
500 to 39,900 km
1.5 to 10.0 km/s (3,335 mph to 22,370 mph) respectively
11 h 58 min
Geostationary 42,000 km
3.1 km/s (6,935 mph)
23 h 56 min
Orbit of the Moon 363,000 to 406,000 km
357,000 to 399,000 km
0.97 to 1.08 km/s (2,170 to 2,416 mph) respectively
See also [ edit ]
References [ edit ]
External links [ edit ]