Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Could an ion engine attached to a satellite be used to stabilize orbit?

  1. Jan 23, 2013 #1
    Basically, my understanding is that every satellite that is not at a lagrange point will see its orbit eventually decay and it will crash back into the earth. Could an ion engine be set to fire at certain times to offset this? Because the rate of decay is slow, an ion engine might be up for it.

    also, how does the procedure go for keeping the ISS boosted in orbit? I'd worry about vibration
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2013 #2

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    No. Orbital decay is related to air drag, and does not depend on other planets/moons/sun. It is relevant for low earth orbits.
    Apart from orbital decay, most orbits are stable or nearly stable (i. e. have a timescale of thousands of years or more).
    Just two lagrangian points are stable, the other 3 are unstable and need corrections.

    It can. Other propulsion systems are easier to build, however, and the total required velocity change over the lifetime of satellites is usually small.

    Video of a boost
    The acceleration is low, and I don't see significant vibrations.
     
  4. Jan 23, 2013 #3
    Thanks. Didn't realize how low the ISS orbited.

    512px-Comparison_satellite_navigation_orbits.svg.png

    I figure that a small ion engine could be run without needing refueling from solar energy.
     
  5. Jan 23, 2013 #4

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Satellites usually need electric energy anyway - there are some passive reflectors in space, but most satellites are supposed to receive and send data in some way.
    And refueling in space is impractical for everything apart from space stations and maybe expensive telescopes.
     
  6. Jan 23, 2013 #5
    What I'm saying is that a satellite could stay in a lower orbital if it had an ion stabilizer that constantly pushed it up to counteract the effect of air drag.
     
  7. Jan 23, 2013 #6

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    GOCE does exactly that.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Could an ion engine attached to a satellite be used to stabilize orbit?
  1. Satellite orbit (Replies: 13)

Loading...