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Various Earth orbits to scale; cyan represents low Earth orbit, yellow represents medium Earth orbit, the black dashed line represents geosynchronous orbit, the green dash-dot line the orbit of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, and the red dotted line the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS).|
The following is a list of types of orbits:
- Low Earth orbit (LEO): Geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 0–2,000 km (0–1,240 miles)
- Medium Earth orbit (MEO): Geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 2,000 km (1,240 miles) to just below geosynchronous orbit at 35,786 km (22,240 miles). Also known as an intermediate circular orbit.
- Geosynchronous orbit: The orbit around Earth matching Earth's sidereal rotation period. All geosynchronous orbits have a maximum altitude (semi-major axis) of 42,164 km (26,199 mi).
- High Earth orbit (HEO): Geocentric orbits above the altitude of geosynchronous orbit 35,786 km (22,240 miles).
- Synchronous orbit: An orbit where the satellite has an orbital period that is a rational multiple of the average rotational period of the body being orbited and in the same direction of rotation as that body. This means the track of the satellite, as seen from the central body, will repeat exactly after a fixed number of orbits. In practice, only 1:1 ratio (geosynchronous) and 1:2 ratios (semi-synchronous) are common.
- Geosynchronous orbit (GEO): An orbit around the Earth with a period equal to one sidereal day, which is Earth's average rotational period of 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.091 seconds. For a nearly circular orbit, this implies an altitude of approximately 35,786 km (22,240 miles). If both the inclination and eccentricity are zero, then the satellite will appear stationary from the ground. If not, then each day the satellite traces out an analemma (figure 8) in the sky, as seen from the ground.
- Tundra orbit: A synchronous but highly elliptic orbit with inclination of 63.4° and orbital period of one sidereal day (roughly 24 hours for the Earth). Such a satellite spends most of its time over a designated area of the planet. The particular inclination keeps the perigee shift small.
- Semi-synchronous orbit: An orbit with an orbital period equal to half of the average rotational period of the body being orbited and in the same direction of rotation as that body. For Earth this means a period of just under 12 hours at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,544.2 miles) if the orbit is circular.
- Molniya orbit: A semi-synchronous variation of a Tundra orbit. For Earth this means an orbital period of just under 12 hours. Such a satellite spends most of its time over two designated areas of the planet. An inclination of 63.4° is normally used to keep the perigee shift small.
- Supersynchronous orbit: A disposal / storage orbit above GSO/GEO. Satellites will drift west. Also a synonym for Disposal orbit.
- Subsynchronous orbit: A drift orbit close to but below GSO/GEO. Satellites will drift east.
- Graveyard orbit: An orbit a few hundred kilometers above geosynchronous that satellites are moved into at the end of their operation.
- Areosynchronous orbit: A synchronous orbit around the planet Mars with an orbital period equal in length to Mars' sidereal day, 24.6229 hours.
- Areostationary orbit (ASO): A circular areosynchronous orbit on the equatorial plane and about 17,000 km (10,557 miles) above the surface of Mars. To an observer on the ground this satellite would appear as a fixed point in the sky.
- Heliosynchronous orbit: An heliocentric orbit about the Sun where the satellite's orbital period matches the Sun's period of rotation. These orbits occur at a radius of 24,360 Gm (0.1628 AU) around the Sun, a little less than half of the orbital radius of Mercury.
A diagram showing the five Lagrangian points in a two-body system with one body far more massive than the other (e.g. the Sun and the Earth). In such a system, L3–L5 will appear to share the secondary's orbit, although in fact they are situated slightly outside it.|
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Published - July 2009