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How does a object's velocity get transferred to the horizontal in a satellite launch?

Posted on 2013-11-10
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Last Modified: 2013-11-11
I may not have this right but my understanding is that an object's velocity must be tangential, not perpendicular, to the earth's surface in order to achieve orbit. If that's correct then how is its direction shifted 90 degrees when it reaches its desired distance from the earth?

I'm assuming that this is relatively easy to do with a man-made powered object. Someone in Houston presses a button and before you know it you and I have satellite tv and radio. But what factors could fortuitously come together to cause the presumably quadrillions of orbiting objects in the universe to achieve perfectly "horizontal" trajectories around their host objects and thus achieve stable orbit?

Thanks,
John
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Question by:gabrielPennyback
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by:ozo
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Rockets.
And they usually start shifting the direction from the moment of launch.
(note that they start with the earth's rotational velocity)

For natural objects, they generally bounce off (or interact gravitationally with) other objects.
Some of which are thus ejected out of orbit, or fall out of orbit.
What's eventually left are the stable orbits.
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by:Dave Baldwin
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Here's a page from NASA about putting rocket payloads into orbit: http://exploration.grc.nasa.gov/education/rocket/rktrflght.html

And here's one with a lot of math: http://www.braeunig.us/space/orbmech.htm 

Note that most orbits are not circular but at least somewhat elliptical.  Satellites that need to be in circular or more precise orbits have propulsion and guidance systems built into them.
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by:tliotta
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But what factors could fortuitously come together to cause the presumably quadrillions of orbiting objects in the universe to achieve perfectly "horizontal" trajectories around their host objects and thus achieve stable orbit?

One of the biggest factors is that most of the ones that did not achieve stable orbits long ago crashed into their parent stars or into other orbiting objects. That is, the destruction of "the many" left only "the few" that remain and that seem fortuitous.

Tom
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by:aadih
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< If that's correct then how is its direction shifted 90 degrees when it reaches its desired distance from the earth? >

Simple answer: Because of earth's gravity.
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The solar system formed from the contraction of a cloud of gas and dust. As the cloud contracts, any rotation will be sped up, similar to the way the spin of an ice skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms. This happens because angular momentum is conserved.

Because the angular momentum of the cloud is distributed between the star and the dust around it, those particles that orbit roughly in the equatorial plane around the star will get most of the momentum and settle in an orbit around the star. The size of that orbit depends on the speed of the particle: if it has a higher speed it will move to a larger orbit, slower speeds move inwards.

In other words, an object will settle in an orbit appropriate for its speed. Some may fall into the star at the centre, others may be flung right out of the system, but some will have the right speeds to stay around the star and, as they collide and merge with each other, become planets.

The same reasoning applies at other scales as well. Planets and moons form in the same way, as do entire galaxies.
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by:gabrielPennyback
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Great answers, thank you all! This is like a mini course on orbital mechanics. :- )
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