What is a geostationary orbit?

Although every satellite is sent into orbit, there are different types of orbits for specific satellites.

With that in mind, many people with an interest in space exploration often wonder What is a geostationary orbit?’.

What is an orbit?

An orbit is a curved, repeated path that one object in space takes around another.

An object that is in orbit is called a satellite, and these can be natural – like the Earth or the Moon – or man-made.

Although orbits look like an oval, they take various shapes. When it comes to planets, orbits are almost circular.

An orbit can only happen if an object’s momentum and the force of gravity are balanced. This is because although the object is heading towards a planet, the fact it is moving sideways fast enough means it doesn’t crash into it.

If the forward momentum of one object is too big, it will not be able to enter into orbit. Conversely, if the momentum is too small, the object will move downwards and smash.

What different types of orbits are there?

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is an orbit around Earth with an altitude of up to 2,000 kilometres (1,200) miles.

Satellites in LEO have a short orbital period, typically less than two hours. Types of satellites that are commonly in LEO include earth observation satellites, weather satellites, and defence satellites.

Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) is an orbit around Earth with an altitude just above LEO and below geostationary orbit, at around 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles).

Common satellites that are in MEO are the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other communication satellites. GPS is instrumental for tracking deliveries and making sure they are accurate.

It is also useful in the military sector, for example when providing essential information relating to navigation.

A polar-orbit travels from north to south above, or close to, both poles of the planet on each revolution.

Satellites that are in polar-orbit are used for activities like Earth mapping and Earth observation.

Meanwhile, a sun-synchronous orbit is a special type of polar orbit that passes over any given point of the planet’s surface at the same local solar time.

This type of orbit is good for imaging, reconnaissance and weather satellites as the lighting provides good conditions for capturing the Earth’s surface.

What is a geostationary orbit?

Geostationary orbit (GEO) is a circular orbit around 35,786 kilometres (22,236 miles) above the Earth’s equator that follows the direction of the Earth’s rotation.

Satellites are called ‘geostationary’ because they appear to be still (to an observer on the Earth’s surface). They are used for communication purposes and for weather observation.

It’s incredibly difficult to launch satellites into GEO as this can only be carried out from the Earth’s equator.

During this process, the appropriate distance needs to be measured, as well as the speed of the satellite, to align properly with the planet’s rotation.

Although technology has come a long way, launching a satellite can be a risky procedure and sometimes one can be lost, or placed into the wrong orbit.

For that reason, it’s important to properly prepare with the right components and software.

Satellites are launched into the Earth orbit either on a specific launch or, for smaller satellites like CubeSats, as a shared launch, or as a piggyback launch with a larger satellite.

The rocket guarantees that the satellites are able to reach a high enough speed to keep them in orbit and to facilitate any changes that need to be made.

What is a geostationary satellite?

As a geostationary satellite is motionless, there is a huge effort that goes into positioning them in the correct places.

This type of geostationary satellite will orbit the Earth at an altitude of approximately 35,786 kilometres (22,236 miles) directly above the Earth’s equator and above the lowest orbiting satellites.

They are able to move at the same rotational pace as the Earth, which is what gives them the illusion of being stationary.

Geostationary satellites are useful for purposes where constant or frequent connection to the satellite is needed, such as telecommunications.

Because the position of the satellites can be relied on, relays on the ground can be pointed at them without having to worry about their movement from the original position.

Other types of satellites moving in orbits that don’t match up with the Earth’s are only able to make contact once or twice a day, meaning that they cannot be relied upon 24/7.

This is made possible by their altitude, which permits them expansive views of the planet’s face.

GEO is also useful for weather monitoring and surveillance as they can keep track of fixed positions and monitor any chances over time, including monitoring oceans and signs of storms.

Geostationary satellites also aid with satellite navigation systems and relay information to non-GEO satellites and stations. The European Space Agency uses GEO satellites for this purpose as part of its European Data Relay System.

Although satellites are sent hundreds of kilometres into the air, they can be controlled and operated with advanced, sophisticated software.

Thankfully, Bright Ascension can cater to any requirements for small satellites including providing software solutions.

Our mission-ready software ensures your satellite goes into orbit with everything it needs.

Our suite of pre-validated software components permits you to select and choose the functionality to meet your specific requirements.

If you are curious about how a geostationary satellite operates, or you want to launch a small scale satellite of your own, contact us today.

Our professional team is on hand to support you in your mission from the planning to the launching stages.