Geostationary orbit

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A geostationary orbit (or Geostationary Earth Orbit - GEO) is a geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth's equator (0° latitude), with a period equal to the Earth's rotational period and an orbital eccentricity of approximately zero. An object in a geostationary orbit appears motionless, at a fixed position in the sky, to ground observers. Communications satellites and weather satellites are often given geostationary orbits, so that the satellite antennas that communicate with them do not have to move to track them, but can be pointed permanently at the position in the sky where they stay. Due to the constant 0° latitude and circularity of geostationary orbits, satellites in GEO differ in location by longitude only.

The notion of a geosynchronous satellite for communication purposes was first published in 1928 (but not widely so) by Herman Potočnik.[1] The idea of a geostationary orbit was first disseminated on a wide scale in a 1945 paper entitled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?" by British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, published in Wireless World magazine. The orbit, which Clarke first described as useful for broadcast and relay communications satellites,[2] is sometimes called the Clarke Orbit.[3] Similarly, the Clarke Belt is the part of space about 36,000 km (22,000 mi) above sea level, in the plane of the equator, where near-geostationary orbits may be implemented. The Clarke Orbit is about 265,000 km (165,000 mi) long.

Geostationary orbits are useful because they cause a satellite to appear stationary with respect to a fixed point on the rotating Earth, allowing a fixed antenna to maintain a link with the satellite. The satellite orbits in the direction of the Earth's rotation, at an altitude of 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above ground, producing an orbital period equal to the Earth's period of rotation, known as the sidereal day.

Contents

Introduction

A geostationary orbit can only be achieved at an altitude very close to 35,786 km (22,236 mi), and directly above the equator. This equates to an orbital velocity of 3.07 km/s (1.91 mi/s) or a period of 1,436 minutes, which equates to almost exactly one sidereal day or 23.934461223 hours. This makes sense considering that the satellite must be locked to the Earth's rotational period in order to have a stationary footprint on the ground. In practice, this means that all geostationary satellites have to exist on this ring, which poses problems for satellites that will be decommissioned at the end of their service lives (e.g., when they run out of thruster fuel). Such satellites will either continue to be used in inclined orbits (where the orbital track appears to follow a figure-eight loop centered on the equator), or else be elevated to a "graveyard" disposal orbit.

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