Understanding Orbital Velocity and Altitude of Satellites

In order for a rocket to launch itself to space, it must be able to escape the Earth’s gravity. To do this, it must be able to increase its acceleration to a minimum of 25,039 mph or 40,320 kph.

The escape velocity of the Earth is greater than the force needed to propel a satellite into orbit. In order for a satellite to reach and maintain this orbit, it doesn’t have to merely escape gravity, it also has to be able to balance the pull of gravity with the satellite’s own inertia. In space, inertia keeps the satellite in motion. The velocity required to achieve this balance is called orbital velocity. At 150 miles altitude, the orbital velocity of the satellite is about 17,000 mph. If the satellite cannot achieve balance with the Earth’s gravity, its inertia will simply propel it into space, especially if it is going too fast. If it is too slow, however, gravity will win and pull the satellite down to Earth. If the right orbital velocity is maintained, a balance between gravity and the inertia of the satellite is maintained. This allows the satellite to keep its path around the planet, instead of flying straight ahead.

A satellite’s orbital velocity will also depend on its altitude. The farther it is from the Earth, the slower its orbital velocity. At an altitude of 22,223 miles, a satellite remains at a fixed spot above the Earth, a type of orbit that is known as ‘geostationary’. This is the same orbit used with communications and weather satellites.

Generally, a satellite that has a higher orbit can stay in its path longer. If its path is at a lower altitude, it gets nearer the Earth’s atmosphere. This will cause drag, which can affect the satellite’s orbit negatively, eventually pulling it back into the Earth’s atmosphere and burning it. Satellites that stay at higher altitudes, such as the moon, can keep their orbits for hundreds of years.

Initially, satellites use an elliptical path. Rocket motors onboard the satellite are manipulated by ground control in order to correct the satellite’s ideal path, which is circular. If the satellite is fired at its apogee and thrust is applied in the flight path’s direction, the orbit becomes more circular.

Learn About Satellites

HughesNet Satellte Internet

Globalcom Satellite Communications is proud to offer HughesNet high speed satellite internet service at a great price.

Learn More: HughesNet Satellite Internet

Learn More about Satellite Phones