A spacecraft enters orbit when its centripetalacceleration due to gravity is less than or equal to the centrifugal acceleration due to the horizontal component of its velocity. For a low Earth orbit, this velocity is about 7,800 m/s (28,100 km/h; 17,400 mph); by contrast, the fastest manned airplane speed ever achieved (excluding speeds achieved by deorbiting spacecraft) was 2,200 m/s (7,900 km/h; 4,900 mph) in 1967 by the North American X-15. The energy required to reach Earth orbital velocity at an altitude of 600 km (370 mi) is about 36 MJ/kg, which is six times the energy needed merely to climb to the corresponding altitude.
Spacecraft with a perigee below about 2,000 km (1,200 mi) are subject to drag from the Earth's atmosphere, which decreases the orbital altitude. The rate of orbital decay depends on the satellite's cross-sectional area and mass, as well as variations in the air density of the upper atmosphere. Below about 300 km (190 mi), decay becomes more rapid with lifetimes measured in days. Once a satellite descends to 180 km (110 mi), it has only hours before it vaporizes in the atmosphere. The escape velocity required to pull free of Earth's gravitational field altogether and move into interplanetary space is about 11,200 m/s (40,300 km/h; 25,100 mph).
Geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 160 kilometers (100 statute miles) to 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) above mean sea level. At 160 km, one revolution takes approximately 90 minutes, and the circular orbital speed is 8,000 metres per second (26,000 ft/s).
Geocentric circular orbit with an altitude of 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi). The period of the orbit equals one sidereal day, coinciding with the rotation period of the Earth. The speed is approximately 3,000 metres per second (9,800 ft/s).
Geocentric orbits with altitudes at apogee higher than that of the geosynchronous orbit. A special case of high Earth orbit is the highly elliptical orbit, where altitude at perigee is less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi).
An "orbit" with eccentricity greater than 1. The object's velocity reaches some value in excess of the escape velocity, therefore it will escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and continue to travel infinitely with a velocity (relative to Earth) decelerating to some finite value, known as the hyperbolic excess velocity.
This trajectory must be used to launch an interplanetary probe away from Earth, because the excess over escape velocity is what changes its heliocentric orbit from that of Earth.
This is the mirror image of the escape trajectory; an object traveling with sufficient speed, not aimed directly at Earth, will move toward it and accelerate. In the absence of a decelerating engine impulse to put it into orbit, it will follow the escape trajectory after periapsis.
An "orbit" with eccentricity exactly equal to 1. The object's velocity equals the escape velocity, therefore it will escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and continue to travel with a velocity (relative to Earth) decelerating to 0. A spacecraft launched from Earth with this velocity would travel some distance away from it, but follow it around the Sun in the same heliocentric orbit. It is possible, but not likely that an object approaching Earth could follow a parabolic capture trajectory, but speed and direction would have to be precise.
An orbit which combines altitude and inclination in such a way that the satellite passes over any given point of the planet's surface at the same local solar time. Such an orbit can place a satellite in constant sunlight and is useful for imaging, spy, and weather satellites.
^ ab"Satellite Situation Report, 1997". NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 2000-02-01. Archived from the original on 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
^Hill, James V. H. (April 1999), "Getting to Low Earth Orbit", Space Future, archived from the original on 2012-03-19, retrieved 2012-03-18.
^Shiner, Linda (November 1, 2007), X-15 Walkaround, Air & Space Magazine, retrieved 2009-06-19.
^Dimotakis, P.; et al. (October 1999), 100 lbs to Low Earth Orbit (LEO): Small-Payload Launch Options, The Mitre Corporation, pp. 1–39, archived from the original on 2017-08-29, retrieved 2012-01-21.
^Ghosh, S. N. (2000), Atmospheric Science and Environment, Allied Publishers, pp. 47–48, ISBN 978-8177640434
^Kennewell, John; McDonald, Andrew (2011), Satellite Lifetimes and Solar Activity, Commonwealth of Australia Bureau of Weather, Space Weather Branch, archived from the original on 2011-12-28, retrieved 2011-12-31.
^Williams, David R. (November 17, 2010), "Earth Fact Sheet", Lunar & Planetary Science, NASA, archived from the original on October 30, 2010, retrieved 2012-05-10.
^Definitions of geocentric orbits from the Goddard Space Flight Center Archived May 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
^Out-of-Control Satellite Threatens Other Nearby Spacecraft, by Peter B. de Selding, SPACE.com, 5/3/10. Archived May 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine