What keeps satellites from falling out of the sky? The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit above Earth. (Thinkstock)
What keeps satellites from falling out of the sky?
Lexile

You asked us, "What keeps satellites from falling out of the sky?"
 
Over the last half-century, more than 2,500 satellites have followed the first one into space, and what keeps them all afloat is a delicate balance between a satellite's speed and the pull of gravity.
 
Satellites are basically continuously falling. Crazy, right?
 
But if they're moving at the right speed, they fall at the same rate that the curve of the Earth falls away from them, which means instead of hurtling farther out into space or spiraling down to Earth, they hang out in orbit around the planet.
 
Adjustments are often needed to keep a satellite on the straight and narrow.
 
You see, Earth's gravity is stronger in some places than others and satellites can get pulled around by the sun, the moon - even the planet Jupiter.
 
As if gravity weren't enough to deal with, satellites in low earth orbit -- like the Hubble Space Telescope - can also get pulled out of their orbit by drag from the atmosphere.
 
Not to mention the constant game of Frogger that satellites have to play to avoid space junk and other high flyers.
 
Heads up!

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did the author say satellites need to stay on the “straight and narrow” when satellites actually need to follow the curve of the Earth?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (6)
  • holdeno-3-bar
    11/20/2015 - 06:39 p.m.

    The author uses the phrase "straight and narrow" to talk about how satellites have to keep an accurate path. When discussing how satellites are constantly falling, the author states that if they were on a different trajectory, the satellites would fall to Earth or hurtle out into space. Straight and narrow refers not to the absolute angle of the satellite, but to how it has to stay very close to a specific path.
    I like this article because it discusses the science of astronomy.

  • skylerk-
    11/23/2015 - 12:52 p.m.

    Three Most Important Facts:
    1. Satellites are constantly falling.
    2. Adjustments are made to keep satellites in space.
    3. Some satellites get pulled out of their orbit by the drag of the atmosphere.

    Two Questions:
    1. What kind of "junk" do satellites have to avoid?
    2. Where is Earth's gravity strongest?

    Surprising Detail:
    1. Earth's gravity is stronger in some places than others.

  • nicholast-
    11/23/2015 - 12:53 p.m.

    3 important facts are if the satellites move at the wrong speed they can fall they can also get pushed around by moon sun and eve jupiter more then 2500 satellites have been sent in to space 2 questions are has a satellite ever fell how much money do they cost a suprising fact is they are countinuisly falling

  • liamm-
    11/23/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    Satellites are continuolsy falling, adjustments are often made, and they rotate in earths orbit. What powers the satellites? What are the 2,500 satellites for? one surprising detail i found was that You see, Earth's gravity is stronger in some places than others and satellites can get pulled around by the sun, the moon even the planet Jupiter.

  • samantham-
    11/27/2015 - 08:40 a.m.

    The satellites stay in the air between the force of gravity and the speed of the satellites the it is going.
    Half a century a go the first satellite went into outer space.
    Gravity is stronger in some places than in others.
    Can a satellite ever fall into earth?
    Has there ever been a satellite that has fallen into our planet?
    Satellites are basically always falling.

  • nylae1-pay
    12/08/2015 - 12:41 p.m.

    I learned satellites aren't kept up by magic, it has to do with a delicate balance between a satellite's speed and the pull of gravity. they can easily orbit planets or moons they are observing.

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