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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how an object (such as a satellite) can be put into orbit around Earth
  • Explain how an object (such as a planetary probe) can escape from orbit

Newton’s universal law of gravitation and Kepler’s laws describe the motions of Earth satellite    s and interplanetary spacecraft as well as the planets. Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched by what was then called the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Since that time, thousands of satellites have been placed into orbit around Earth, and spacecraft have also orbited the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and a number of asteroids and comets.

Once an artificial satellite is in orbit, its behavior is no different from that of a natural satellite, such as our Moon. If the satellite is high enough to be free of atmospheric friction, it will remain in orbit forever. However, although there is no difficulty in maintaining a satellite once it is in orbit, a great deal of energy is required to lift the spacecraft off Earth and accelerate it to orbital speed.

To illustrate how a satellite is launched, imagine a gun firing a bullet horizontally from the top of a high mountain, as in [link] , which has been adapted from a similar diagram by Newton. Imagine, further, that the friction of the air could be removed and that nothing gets in the bullet’s way. Then the only force that acts on the bullet after it leaves the muzzle is the gravitational force between the bullet and Earth.

Firing a bullet into orbit.

Firing a Bullet into Orbit. In panel (a), at left, a figure is drawn at the “top” of the Earth and is pointing a pistol to the left. The first bullet is fired with velocity Va (illustrated with a short arrow at top) and travels only about 1/8 of the way around the globe before hitting the ground. The second bullet is fired with velocity Vb (illustrated with a longer arrow at top) and travels about 1/4 of the way around the globe before hitting the ground. Finally, the final bullet is fired with velocity Vc (illustrated with a long arrow at top) and travels all the way around the globe, striking the unfortunate marksman in the back. Panel (b), at right, shown a similar illustration by Isaac Newton.
(a) For paths a and b , the velocity is not enough to prevent gravity from pulling the bullet back to Earth; in case c , the velocity allows the bullet to fall completely around Earth. (b) This diagram by Newton in his De Mundi Systemate , 1731 edition, illustrates the same concept shown in (a).

If the bullet is fired with a velocity we can call v a , the gravitational force acting upon it pulls it downward toward Earth, where it strikes the ground at point a . However, if it is given a higher muzzle velocity, v b , its higher speed carries it farther before it hits the ground at point b .

If our bullet is given a high enough muzzle velocity, v c , the curved surface of Earth causes the ground to remain the same distance from the bullet so that the bullet falls around Earth in a complete circle. The speed needed to do this—called the circular satellite velocity—is about 8 kilometers per second, or about 17,500 miles per hour in more familiar units.

Each year, more than 50 new satellites are launched into orbit by such nations as Russia, the United States, China, Japan, India, and Israel, as well as by the European Space Agency (ESA), a consortium of European nations ( [link] ). Today, these satellites are used for weather tracking, ecology, global positioning systems, communications, and military purposes, to name a few uses. Most satellites are launched into low Earth orbit, since this requires the minimum launch energy. At the orbital speed of 8 kilometers per second, they circle the planet in about 90 minutes. Some of the very low Earth orbits are not indefinitely stable because, as Earth’s atmosphere swells from time to time, a frictional drag is generated by the atmosphere on these satellites, eventually leading to a loss of energy and “decay” of the orbit.

Satellites in earth orbit.

Satellites in Earth Orbit. The thousands of objects orbiting the Earth are represented as white dots surrounding the planet in this illustration. Most of the objects are in low Earth orbit, roughly between about 100 to 1000 miles.
This figure shows the larger pieces of orbital debris that are being tracked by NASA in Earth’s orbit. (credit: NASA/JSC)

Interplanetary spacecraft

The exploration of the solar system has been carried out largely by robot spacecraft sent to the other planets. To escape Earth, these craft must achieve escape speed    , the speed needed to move away from Earth forever, which is about 11 kilometers per second (about 25,000 miles per hour). After escaping Earth, these craft coast to their targets, subject only to minor trajectory adjustments provided by small thruster rockets on board. In interplanetary flight, these spacecraft follow orbits around the Sun that are modified only when they pass near one of the planets.

As it comes close to its target, a spacecraft is deflected by the planet’s gravitational force into a modified orbit, either gaining or losing energy in the process. Spacecraft controllers have actually been able to use a planet’s gravity to redirect a flyby spacecraft to a second target. For example, Voyager 2 used a series of gravity-assisted encounters to yield successive flybys of Jupiter (1979), Saturn (1980), Uranus (1986), and Neptune (1989). The Galileo spacecraft, launched in 1989, flew past Venus once and Earth twice to gain the energy required to reach its ultimate goal of orbiting Jupiter.

If we wish to orbit a planet, we must slow the spacecraft with a rocket when the spacecraft is near its destination, allowing it to be captured into an elliptical orbit. Additional rocket thrust is required to bring a vehicle down from orbit for a landing on the surface. Finally, if a return trip to Earth is planned, the landed payload must include enough propulsive power to repeat the entire process in reverse.

Key concepts and summary

The orbit of an artificial satellite depends on the circumstances of its launch. The circular satellite velocity needed to orbit Earth’s surface is 8 kilometers per second, and the escape speed from our planet is 11 kilometers per second. There are many possible interplanetary trajectories, including those that use gravity-assisted flybys of one object to redirect the spacecraft toward its next target.

Questions & Answers

what is steral evolution (star evolution
meron Reply
hi
Nisha
when a star's mass changes over time
Joe
hi
Joe
hi
Lisette
Hii
Asim
hi
Nisha
what big bang
Nisha
yes joe over time chang star mass
Nisha
star prouduce nucluer fusion first stag ( hydroge fusion helium- carbon-neon-oxygen-silicon- last fusion iron hevy star mass not handle iron blast super nova
Nisha
what is the worm hole theory
Nisha Reply
it states that you can travel back through time by this. It's like folding a paper into half and making two points, and there states that you can bend spacetime but according to Einstein's equation that it can break easily and only really small particles can pass through it.
Dark
dark dream what is dark matter
Nisha
what is the great filter theory
Nisha
the great filter theory it's just like the literally filtering it says that when once a civilization achieved its highest state or let's say the highest technology for instance their civilization will end.
Dark
what is radio burst
Nisha
please answer
Nisha
what is the simulatin hypothies
Nisha
smart obsevatin
Nisha
In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a transient radiopulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet identified. We can say that this can be they way to at least know if there's other civilizations~
Dark
~out there
Dark
Simulation hypothesis it proposes that the earth, the universe and the reality you are in is just an artificial simulation or like you are living in a computer simulation.
Dark
sir possible time travel
Nisha
?
Nisha
Yes. Everything is possible.
Dark
replay
Nisha
thanks
Nisha
sir how to make neutron star
Nisha
replay
Nisha
?
Nisha
sir what is the white hole?
Nisha
hi good morning
Nisha
why does the matter of an objects density change the fabric of space time rather than the objects volume..? (hopefully I have expressed that question properly) thanks
Daijahrel Reply
because an objects density consists of it's energy & momentum. an objects volume, for example a photon can have no density (hopefully I expressed that answer properly)
Joe
I suppose each Individual has his or hers different laws and assumptions, so it can be difficult to ask and answer physics questions, but discussions are always positive
Joe
how
Melaku
which matter use rocket
Nisha
Does their is any procedure of star making
Asim Reply
Hope That Helps.....
Adam
how to produce star and how to dead star?
Nisha
waad mahad santnihiin dhamaan waxaan doonayaa inaan wax ka barto astronomyga waa maxay xidigis?
Abdicaroog Reply
understanding astronomy
ricardo Reply
What About Understanding Astronomy?
Adam
yap
Janmarc
what is astronomy?
Janmarc
define..
Janmarc
Currently, I'm studying in 10th grade. What should I do after my 10th so that I can get an astronomy career?
Chaya Reply
try jee exam and achieve a good score in jee advance to join in IIST(Space research institute)
Sri
okay.. thanks
Chaya
Hey there I want to be an astrophysicist... and I'm grade 9... what should I do to be an astrophysicist
Aymen
Know more about space,watch movies related to space ,and to become an astrophysicist u should be very good in physics,train urself to think everything logically. Start to focus on JEE Exam ,train urself or join any institute which is good in coaching for JEE ,then if u score high ,u can join IIST
Sri
Which is the best university for Astronomy
Asim
Probably Massachusetts Institute Of Technology.....
Adam
Math Math Math, Get Familiar With All Types Of Math.....
Adam
Which subject is most important for Astronomy
Asim
Geometry, Algebra, Calculus, Trigonometry, Do Alot Of It And Often.....
Adam
I Can't Say It Enough, Math Is The Language Of The Cosmos.....
Adam
Adam you are in which university?
Asim
I Went To University But Never Finished My Degree..... Had To Work And Couldn't Afford School.....
Adam
MaryMount University..... Philosophy Of Science Major.....
Adam
It ia a cathloic University. Am i write
Asim
And its main campas is in Arlington country
Asim
No, It's In New York City.....
Adam
It's Not A Catholic University.....
Adam
Ohh sorry
Asim
Are you interested in Astronomy
Asim
IIT ain't so good for Pure Astronomy. If you want to know how the universe works,go for pure science. If you want to make spacecraft,go for Aerospace Engineering
priyanshu
Your are in which university brother
Asim
I Love Astronomy, I'm An Active Amateur Astronomer.....
Adam
I also love Astronomy very much
Asim
And to help me to solve some puzzling questions
Asim
this famous person was the first to recognise earthshine on the moin
Rajan Reply
Leonardo Da Vinci.....
Adam
what is string theory?
sakshi Reply
A Cosmological Theory Based On The Exsistence Of Cosmic Vibrating Strings.....
Adam
Good Morning Asim Ali.....
Adam
I Can't Do That, You Can Ask Me What Ever You Want.....
Adam
If you don't mind can i ask why?
Asim
Do You Understand The Millions Of People Have Access To This Site, I Wouldn't Put My Information Out There, Knowing What People With Bad Intent Can Do With Personal Information.....
Adam
Ohh sorry
Asim
My question is that, there are many collision of stars in a day So that cause black hole. But is there any procedure of star making? Hopefully i ask my question properly.
Asim
No Need To Apologize, I Will Answer Anything You Need Answered And If I Can't Answer It I Will Guide You To The Answer.....
Adam
Thier Is Only One Way Stars Are Made, Gravity Makes Matter Come Together, And When The Amount Of Matter Gets Massive Enough Nuclear Fusion Starts Up And A Star Is Born.....
Adam
What is white drawft?
Asim
A White Dwarf Is A Low Mass Star That Has Exhausted All It's Central Nuclear Fuel And Lost It's Outer Layers As A Planetary Nebula.....
Adam
what is the great filter theory
Nisha
hi adam what is great filter theory
Nisha
Well First It's Not A Theory, It's A Hypothesis, The Great Filter Hypothesis States That What Ever Causes Dead Matter To Under Go Abiogenesis(Start Of Life) Must Be Very Hard And Very Rare In Our Universe, Because So Far We Only See 1 Civilisation That Made Through All The Requirements For.....
Adam
Intelligent Life, So Far Only Our Planet Has Intelligent Life, That We Know Of, And Again This Is Only A Hypothesis, No Evidence Exist To Back This Up.....
Adam
hi adam sir
Nisha
Good Day.....
Adam
Good to see you sir
Asim
hi
Nisha
good day
Nisha
hi
Nisha
Same Here.....
Adam
What's The Good Word For The Day?
Adam
Does MIT have good astrophysics courses ?
priyanshu Reply
Probably The Best In The United States.....
Adam
But Don't Get Caught Up On Who's The Best, You Can Be The Next Noble Winning Astrophysicist.....
Adam
hmmm..........that's nice one....Adam had said.....
Gospel
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ? 🤔
Hussain Reply
why do you want to study ASTRONOMY?
Hussain Reply
It is one of the natural sciences and therefore worth exploring. You are a part of the universe and it is a part of you. The sky is my classroom. (student of cosmology, Oxford Uni)
SuperNova
because everything in the space is just beautiful...interesting and worth studying and exploring...
Memo
I have been studying astrophysics an love it
Carla
I love to learn what makes up our lives an heavens an how it works there us so much more out there than books an our veiw of thw heavens can reveal
Carla
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ?
Hussain
Because it proves the impossibles and the limitless.
Dark
It helped me realize that there are like countless possibilities in life and get all through it.
Dark
It honestly showed me to view the world in a balanced way. Because space beautiful and calm yet violent, and so is the world, and we should still help, but there will always be violent people much like violent astrophysical jets.
Da
What does ASTRONOMY means?
Hussain
Does anyone know where can I study astronomy in Spain? My budget is too low for traveling out there...
Valerian Reply
How long the duration was when the laws of physics became active after the big bang?And why the time is called plank's time?
Mostak Reply
how many galaxies in universe?
Shaikh Reply
10 to the power 11
Wwe
testing
Ahmad
thnx
Shaikh
if u can count all the sands on the beaches and on the deserts then u will know how much it will be.......some said more than 1,000,000,000 galaxies are there in our universe...
Gospel
it's ok bro
Wwe
I hope you will become a member of nasa
Wwe
just new in this area, from art background not science
Ahmad
what's ur name wwe
Shaikh
The Observable Universe Contains Between 200 Billion To 2 Trillion Galaxies.....
Adam
are u sure?
Caleb
It actually hasn't been proven, people have just made estimations.
Ariana
the thing is u can't count,maybe the our number system will collapse there...who knows?
Abdullah
What's the exact time when the laws of physics became active after the big bang ?
Mostak
Actually we still don't know the exact number of galaxies in the universe, since the universe is bigger than we can imagine and it is still expanding even bigger today than yesterday
Ismaee
we didn't actually find the exact number but may be it is around 100 billion
Smridhi
why this universe is expanding?
ATUL
Science Does Not Concern It Self With Why Questions, Science Is Geared For How And What Questions.....
Adam
Why Questions Form And Endless Loop.....
Adam
According to the universal law of cause and effect .any phenomenon that occur in this universe should have any reason , nothing happen without any reason.
ATUL
Can you tell me the expanding speed of this universe.
ATUL
yes that would be a great question to have answered what is the expanding speed of the universe?
Daijahrel
Remember that most of what you can see is light years away. We're looking back in time, we can never know the current nature of our observations, only glimpse the galaxies and stars as they once were. Strange but true, and a little sad.
SuperNova
Correct, That's Why Telescopes Are Like Time Machines, You See The Past.....
Adam
really telescope can see the past?....i meant everything is in its place, though it rotates or revolve or whatever it is.......but how can this telescope can see the past.....can we see how our Universe was created,how it formed out of it? thats my question to all of you guys can you plz tell me.
Gospel
Because We Dont See Any Object In Space As It Is, We See It As It Was..... Hope This Clears That Up For You.....
Adam
And One Day We Might Have A Telescope That Will Show Us The Big Bang.....
Adam
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
Travel at light speed in a spaceship at 186,000 miles every SECOND. At this speed it will take you 100,000 years just to cross our Milky Way galaxy, which is just a dot in the sky. Next stop, the Andromeda galaxy, after 2.5 million years, still in the Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, still a dot.
SuperNova
Pretty Much.....
Adam
there are nearly 200 million I suppose.
Amit
Practice Key Terms 1

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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