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Deteriorating Orbits of Satellites and Objects

  1. Dec 14, 2013 #1
    Assuming that an object in orbit has no means of propulsion (dead satellites, NEOs, etc.) and it remains aloft long enough, will it tend to specific areas of orbit or inclination? Do these unnatended objects tend to the poles? to the equator? etc. (I understand that it can be dependent on synchronicity, altitude, etc, but just in general).

    Thank you for your help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2013 #2


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    It takes energy to change an orbit once it is established. When the orbit decays, the object loses speed and altitude. Unless there is some external force applied, the orbital inclination should stay the same due to inertia.
  4. Dec 14, 2013 #3
    Various forces make the plane of the orbit precess (rotate) - the oblateness of the Earth, for instance. There are also forces such as radiation pressure from the Sun, but the effects are minor. The only thing which really causes an orbit to decay is the drag of the atmosphere, and that only to very low-altitude satellites. Long term, there is the famous transfer of energy to the Moon which is causing its orbit to slowly drift outward.
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