Geostationary Orbits (OCR A Level Physics)

Revision Note

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Katie M


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Geostationary Orbits & Satellites

  • Many communication satellites around Earth follow a geostationary orbit
    • This is sometimes referred to as a geosynchronous orbit

  • This is a specific type of orbit in which the satellite:
    • Remains directly above the equator
    • Is in the plane of the equator
    • Always orbits at the same point above the Earth’s surface
    • Moves from west to east (same direction as the Earth spins)
    • Has an orbital time period equal to Earth’s rotational period of 24 hours

  • Geostationary satellites are used for telecommunication transmissions (e.g. radio) and television broadcast
  • A base station on Earth sends the TV signal up to the satellite where it is amplified and broadcast back to the ground to the desired locations
  • The satellite receiver dishes on the surface must point towards the same point in the sky
    • Since the geostationary orbits of the satellites are fixed, the receiver dishes can be fixed too

Geostationary orbit satellite, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Geostationary satellite in orbit

Worked example

Calculate the distance above the Earth's surface that a geostationary satellite will orbit.

Mass of the Earth = 6.0 × 1024 kg

Radius of the Earth = 6400 km

Worked example - radius of geostationary orbit, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Exam Tip

Make sure to memorise the key features of a geostationary orbit, since this is a common exam question. Remember:

  • Equatorial orbit
  • Moves west to east
  • Period of 24 hours

You will also be expected to remember that the time period of the orbit is 24 hours for calculations on a geostationary satellite.

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Katie M

Author: Katie M

Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.

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