What speed do satellites orbit at?

  • Google+ icon
  • LinkedIn icon
  • 839 views

The key point to recognise here is that an object undergoing a circular orbit around the Earth is undergoing circular motion. Circular motion is caused by a centripetal force (acting towards the centre of the circle), described by:

F= msatellitev2/r   (eq 1)

In the case of an orbit, the force acting towards the centre is due to the gravity of the Earth, which is described by Newton's law of universal gravitation:

F= GmEarthmSatellite/r2  (eq 2)

We can now equate these two expressions:

Fc = Fg => msatellitev2/r = GmEarthmSatellite/r2  (eq 3)

Now me can rearrange to make v the subject of the equation:

v = sqrt(GmEarth/r)   (eq 4)

This is the speed of a satellite in a circular orbit around the Earth. Note that v is proportional to 1/sqrt(r) and that the mass of the satellite has cancelled out.

Ryan M. Mentoring Physics tutor, GCSE Maths tutor, GCSE Science tutor...

About the author

is an online A Level Physics tutor with MyTutor studying at Cambridge University

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist.

95% of our customers rate us

Browse tutors

We use cookies to improve your site experience. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss

mtw:mercury1:status:ok