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Low Earth Orbit

Definition

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) refers to a satellite system that orbits at a relatively close range to the surface of the Earth, typically between 112 and 1,200 miles high. This orbit is used particularly for telecommunication systems, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and weather satellites. Its proximity to Earth allows for faster data transmission and reduced latency, or delay.

Phonetic

The phonetics of the keyword “Low Earth Orbit” is /loʊ ɜrθ ˈɔr.bɪt/.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is the region of space closest to the Earth, where a majority of satellites and the International Space Station operate because of its proximity and lower energy requirements for placement.
  2. The altitude of LEOs typically ranges from about 120 to 2000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, facilitating various operations, including telecommunications, earth observation, and astronomical observatories.
  3. Objects in LEO travel extremely fast, with an orbital period of about 90 to 120 minutes, meaning objects can complete an orbit around the Earth in less time than it takes to watch a movie. However, the high speed also implies that a considerable amount of energy is needed to maintain or change orbits.

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Importance

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is a key term in technology, particularly in space communications and satellite technology, that carries significant importance. It refers to an orbit around Earth with an altitude between 160 kilometers and 2,000 kilometers, where a majority of satellites and the International Space Station are found. The importance of LEO resides in its proximity to Earth, which results in lower latency, or delay in communication, compared to satellites in higher orbits. This makes LEO essential for real-time communication services, like voice calls and video conferences. Furthermore, LEO satellites require less power to send and receive data, enhancing power efficiency. In essence, Low Earth Orbit has a crucial role in enhancing global communication systems, observation satellites, and scientific and commercial operations.

Explanation

Low Earth Orbit, commonly referred to as LEO, is a specific zone or band of the Earth’s orbit within an altitude of 2,000 kilometers. It’s the region where most human-made satellites and space stations reside, including the International Space Station (ISS) and Hubble Space Telescope. The purpose of the LEO is to provide an optimal position for various technologies to effectively perform their functions with minimal delay and energy consumption.Within the Low Earth Orbit, satellites are relatively closer to the earth’s surface, allowing them to transmit and receive stronger signals. This results in better image resolution for imaging satellites, reduced latency for communication satellites, and increased reliability of data transmission for weather and spying satellites. Also, launching satellites into LEO requires less energy than reaching higher orbits, making it a cost-effective option. Overall, LEO plays a significant role in many applications, from scientific research, weather forecasting, defense, telecommunications, to geospatial positioning systems.

Examples

1. International Space Station (ISS): The ISS is located in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) approximately 408 kilometers (253 miles) above the Earth. It utilizes this orbit to make it easier for astronauts to travel and send supplies from Earth.2. Hubble Space Telescope: Another real-world example of Low Earth Orbit technology is the Hubble Space Telescope. Placed in LEO, approximately 569 kilometers (353 miles) above the Earth, the telescope orbits Earth every 97 minutes. Being in the low Earth orbit allows it to capture high-resolution images of space with minimal atmospheric distortion.3. Starlink Satellite System: Starlink by SpaceX, the burgeoning satellite network designed to provide internet connectivity across the planet, also operates in Low Earth Orbit. This allows the system to provide low latency, high bandwidth internet connectivity, especially to remote or rural areas where there’s typically a lack of access to broadband.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

**Q: What is Low Earth Orbit?**A: Low Earth Orbit (LEO) refers to the orbit of a satellite or other object that is located approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) or less above the earth’s surface, making it the closest orbit to the earth.**Q: What are the benefits of using Low Earth Orbit for satellites?**A: LEO satellites have several benefits. They require less power for transmission and have lower latency due to their proximity to Earth. This allows for better quality of communication and faster data transfer speeds.**Q: What types of satellites are typically placed in Low Earth Orbit and why?**A: Satellites that are used for tasks requiring real-time data, such as weather, communications, and surveillance, are often placed in LEO because of the advantages such as less signal delay and better resolution.**Q: How long does a satellite stay in Low Earth Orbit?**A: The lifespan of a satellite in LEO is generally about 5 to 20 years, depending on its purpose and design. This is shorter compared to geostationary orbits due to the increased atmospheric drag encountered in LEO.**Q: What is the speed of a satellite in Low Earth Orbit?**A: The speed of an object in LEO is approximately 7.8 km/second or 28,000 km/hour. This high speed keeps the satellite from being pulled down by Earth’s gravity.**Q: Does Low Earth Orbit have space junk?**A: Yes, Low Earth Orbit is the region most concentrated with space debris or “space junk”. This includes defunct satellites, fragments from disintegrations, and other remnants from space missions.**Q: What is the impact of Low Earth Orbit on space exploration?**A: LEO has been used for human spaceflight missions, including the International Space Station (ISS) and the retired Space Shuttle. It also offers an environment for testing technologies for deep space missions. **Q: How is Low Earth Orbit different from High Earth Orbit and Medium Earth Orbit?**A: The main differences lie in the altitude and purpose. LEO is closest to Earth (up to 2,000km above Earth) and is ideal for activities needing real-time data. Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) is further out (2,000–36,000km above Earth) and is often used for navigation satellites. High Earth Orbit (HEO) is beyond 36,000km and is primarily used for communication satellites.

Related Tech Terms

  • Satellites
  • International Space Station (ISS)
  • Orbital Velocity
  • Space Debris
  • Telemetry

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