Different Types of Orbits for Satellites around Earth

Orbit is the curved path in which an object in space revolves around another object or a celestial body, regularly and repeatedly. An orbit is usually elliptical in shape. But sometimes it can also be almost circular. For example, the moon revolves around Earth in an almost circular orbit while the orbital movement of Jupiter around the Sun is significantly elliptical when compared to that of the moon.

Whenever we launch a satellite or any other spacecraft in space, it is designed to follow a particular type of orbit. Most of the time, the launched object orbits around the Earth but sometimes these objects are also sent for some interplanetary journey beyond the orbit of the earth. The orbit for a satellite is chosen considering the nature of its use. Commonly used satellite orbits are:

  • Geostationary Orbit (GEO)
  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
  • Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)
  • Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO)
  • Polar Orbit
  • Transfer Orbits and Geostationary Transfer Orbit
  • Lagrange Points (L- Points)
  • Sun-synchronous Orbit
Various Types of Orbits
Orbit Type Particulars Purpose
Geostationary Orbit (GEO)
It circles the Earth above the equator from west to east at a height of 36,000 km. It follows the rotation of the Earth. Thus, it appears stationary over a fixed position on Earth. Used for telecommunications, monitoring continent-wide weather patterns and environmental conditions.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
Located at an altitude of less than 1000 km and could be as low as 160 km above the Earth. Remote sensing, military purposes and human spaceflight.
Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)
Located at an altitude of around 1000 km. For placing constellations of satellites mainly used for telecommunications.
Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO)
Elliptic orbit with high eccentricity. Satellite in such an orbit remain at high altitude over high-latitude ground sites for long periods of time. Telecommunication
Polar Orbit Passes over the Earth’s Polar Regions from north to south at low altitudes of between 200 to 1000 km. Used for Earth observation and reconnaissance.
Transfer orbits and geostationary transfer orbit A special kind of orbit used to transfer from one orbit to another. Allows a satellite to reach a particular orbit without actually needing the launch vehicle to go all the way to the required altitude (mostly for high altitude orbit).
Lagrange Points (L- Points) L-Points are for orbits that are far of and do not orbit Earth directly. These are specific points in space where the gravitational fields of Earth and the Sun combine in such a way that spacecraft that orbit them remain stable. Used for distant space missions.
Sun-synchronous orbit Polar orbits which are synchronous with the Sun. Used for Earth observation, solar study, weather forecasting