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Chapter: Satellite Communication - Satellite Orbits

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Orbital Perturbations

Theoretically, an orbit described by Kepler is ideal as Earth is considered to be a perfect sphere and the force acting around the Earth is the centrifugal force. This force is supposed to balance the gravitational pull of the earth.

Orbital Perturbations:

Theoretically, an orbit described by Kepler is ideal as Earth is considered to be a perfect sphere and the force acting around the Earth is the centrifugal force. This force is supposed to balance the gravitational pull of the earth.

 

In reality, other forces also play an important role and affect the motion of the satellite. These forces are the gravitational forces of Sun and Moon along with the atmospheric drag.

 

Effect of Sun and Moon is more pronounced on geostationary earth satellites where as the atmospheric drag effect is more pronounced for low earth orbit satellites.

 

1. Effects of non-Spherical Earth :

As the shape of Earth is not a perfect sphere, it causes some variations in the path followed by the satellites around the primary. As the Earth is bulging from the equatorial belt, and keeping in mind that an orbit is not a physical entity, and it is the forces resulting from an oblate Earth which act on the satellite produce a change in the orbital parameters.

 

This causes the satellite to drift as a result of regression of the nodes and the latitude of the point of perigee (point closest to the Earth). This leads to rotation of the line of apsides. As the orbit itself is moving with respect to the Earth, the resultant changes are seen in the values of argument of perigee and right ascension of ascending node.

 

Due to the non-spherical shape of Earth, one more effect called as the “Satellite Graveyard” is seen. The non-spherical shape leads to the small value of eccentricity (10-5) at the equatorial plane. This causes a gravity gradient on GEO satellite and makes them drift to one of the two stable points which coincide with minor axis of the equatorial ellipse.

 

2. Atmospheric Drag:

For Low Earth orbiting satellites, the effect of atmospheric drag is more pronounces. The impact of this drag is maximumat the point of perigee. Drag (pull towards the Earth) has an effect on velocity of Satellite (velocity reduces).

 

This causes the satellite to not reach the apogee height successive revolutions. This leads to a change in value of semi-major axis and eccentricity. Satellites in service are maneuvered by the earth station back to their original orbital position.


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