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Breakdown: Why satellites don’t fall out of the sky

Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 10:04 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands of satellites sit above Earth, but how do they stay up there without falling out of the sky?

The location of the satellite is essential to how it orbits around Earth. A rocket launches the satellite off Earth at a high speed, which creates momentum. This energy causes the satellite to continue to move.

However, another factor causes the satellite to circulate around the Earth without falling back down--gravity. This may be counterintuitive since gravity is usually what brings things down to the ground on Earth. However, the slight pull of gravity mixed with the satellite’s momentum creates a balance that keeps the satellite in orbit.

This balance can be difficult to reach, so engineers must find the perfect speed and distance from Earth to keep the satellite safely in space.

According to NASA, “The satellite NOAA-20 orbits just a few hundred miles above Earth. It has to travel at 17,000 miles per hour to stay in orbit. On the other hand, NOAA’s GOES-East satellite orbits 22,000 miles above Earth. It only has to travel about 6,700 miles per hour to overcome gravity and stay in orbit.”

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