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Running head: TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Taking Orbits Into Account


Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
Jacob Riley
EKU Dual Credit English 101/ Rockcastle County High School

Author Note: This paper has been prepared for Dual Credit English 101, Taught by Markita Proctor

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

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Abstract

Throughout history, it has proven useful for the National Astronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) to know how objects move in space. The ability to interpret and read
orbital patterns of objects in space has allowed NASA to plan their missions so that they are
successful and accurate. NASA doesnt only understand how objects move in free space, but they
also understand the science of being able to successfully land their craft on things like the moon
and Mars due to their understanding of forces. It can even be shown that due to the knowledge of
orbits, NASA has been able to understand how to construct their craft. Needless to say, the
understanding of orbital forces is vital to NASAs missions and research being successful.

Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
The National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched many
missions into space. Whether it was the iconic moon landing, launching a satellite to take
pictures of Earth, or any other type of mission, NASA had to take many different factors into
account when planning them. They were factors like the vacuum seal on a shuttle being tight
enough to withstand the pressure in space, or calculating the amount of thrust needed to break
atmosphere. As well as these, another factor that NASA took, and still takes, into account is the
idea of orbits. To put it simply, all large objects in space have a gravitational field. If a smaller
object, like an asteroid, approaches a larger object, like a planet, it will be pulled by its
gravitational force. An orbit happens when the asteroid approaches the planet at an off angle so
that it does not go straight into the planet. Instead, it approaches at a trajectory that is at an angle
that still allows it to be caught in the planets gravity. The asteroid is pulled from its course, whips
around the planet, and with a slow enough speed to not sling back into space, it continually
whips around the planet due to gravity acting on it at an angle rather than straight down to its
surface. Orbits play important roles in not only how things like the solar system work, but how
things move in space in general. Due to the significant role that orbits play in terms of how
things move in space, past NASA projects show that many of their missions require them to
work with or around orbits of celestial objects throughout the solar system and possibly beyond.
It has proven to be vital that NASA take orbits into account.
However, while NASA does implement orbits in their missions today, the idea of looking
closer at orbits to predict motion in space did not start with NASA. Rather, it started with two
Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
astronomers: Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. It is said in Merriam-Websters Biographical
Dictionary (2009) that Brahe was an astronomer in Bohemia appointed by the leader at the time
Rudolph II, with Kepler as his assistant. Brahe looked at Earth as the center of the solar system
rather than the sun. However, his way of looking at the solar system wasnt a typical geocentric
way. In other words, he didnt think Earth was the only thing objects revolved around. He saw
the solar system structured as the sun revolving around Earth and the other planets in the solar
system revolving around the sun (para. 1). Eventually, as told in Comptons by Britannica v 6.0,
(2009) Kepler took Brahes place as astronomer and astrologer after he died. Rather than
focusing on what revolved around what, Kepler observed the planets orbits themselves. By
observing their orbits, Kepler eventually came up with the laws of planetary motion. With these
laws, Kepler was able to predict positions of the planets at a certain time. Kepler was even able
to finish a set of that Brahe had started, which told the position of celestial objects at certain
times (para. 2, 3, and 9). Daniel Hudon, a lecturer of astronomy at Metropolitan College (Daniel
Hudon), even talks about what Kepler accomplished with his knowledge. It is said by Hudon
(2009) that Keplers work managed to predict when Mercury and Venus passed in front of the
sun in 1631. This was evidence that his motion laws truly were accurate (para. 17). His ideas of
tracking objects in space can also be shown taking affect in NASAs projects like putting a man
on the moon.
Pinpointing Objects With Orbits
Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
Using orbits to predict where a celestial object goes has proven vital to NASA in multiple
missions. For example, when NASA was trying to come up with a plan to get a man on the
moon, they had to take orbits into account. Tom McGowan, a writer of young adult books which
break down historical events like the moon landing (Tom E. Mcgowan2009), shows how the
moon landing could not have happened without orbital knowledge. McGowan (2009) states, in
his book Space Race the Man the Mission the Moon, NASA had a strategy called . . . Lunar
Orbit Rendezvous . . . this idea meant coming together in orbit around the moon (p. 41-42).
McGowan shows that the strategy required NASA to have knowledge of how the moon orbited
Earth and how fast it was moving. NASA would have to hold off on the shuttle launch until the
moon was in a certain position relative to Earth. In this position, the amount of time it would take
to get to the moon would be the amount of time the moon needed to get into another predicted
position to rendezvous with the shuttle. With NASAs knowledge of orbits, they were able to
plan when to launch the shuttle so that it ran into the moon at an exact time and place according
to how it moved. However, it wasnt only timing of the shuttles launch NASA had to worry
about, they also had to worry about how other objects in space diverted the shuttles trajectory.
Everything has an Orbital Force
As well as the moon being taken under consideration, NASA had to worry about more
than just the moons orbital motion, they had to worry about the orbital motion of the shuttle in
correspondence to all of the celestial pulls on it. No matter where shuttles go in the solar system,
Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
they are still being pulled on by some object in space. Jerry Sellers, who has a masters degree in
aeronautics and astronautics (Mission Idea Contest: Reviewers), understands the idea that
shuttles always have some force in space diverting them from a straight course into an orbit like
course. Sellers, Astore, Giffen, and Larson (2005), in the text book Understanding Space: an
Introduction to Astronautics, show an example of a mission where men were sent to repair the
Hubble Telescope above Earth. They said that Because a space craft is always in the
gravitational field of some central body . . ., it has to follow orbital motion laws in getting from
one place to another (p. 192). Even when out of the atmosphere, the shuttle was under
gravitational influence from multiple sources: The Earth, the Sun, and The Moon. All of them
have some sort of orbit like pull on the shuttle which is why the shuttle must follow orbital
motion laws. The Moons forces wouldve needed to be understood to figure out the best
trajectory for meeting up with it. The best way to meet up with it would have had to be an angle
that would whip the shuttle into an orbit with the moon. This would insure a soft landing rather
than plowing straight into the planet. The Earths orbital forces wouldve needed to be
understood to get a sense of when to launch the shuttle so that it could thrust enough to fight
Earths orbital force and move in the right direction towards the moon. Finally, the Suns orbital
forces would cause a constant shift in direction of the shuttle due to its massive pull throughout
the solar system. This shows just how much orbital force would need to be taken into account
since there were so many objects pulling on the shuttle. However, trajectory is not the only thing
that orbits are taken into account as far as spacecraft go.
Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
A Different Orbit can Mean a Different Function or Design
Orbits are also able to affect the design of a spacecraft as well as its trajectory. This is
because depending upon how far out an orbit will go from a planet, it will need to be more
durable or made with things like more powerful sensory technology depending on its function.
Janes International Defense Review, a magazine showing the latest news on technologies for
land, air, and sea observation (Janes International Defense Review), shows that orbits are not
only able to help plan what sort of trajectories to take, but also what funds they must have to
prepare a craft and what must be fitted on the shuttles in terms of equipment. For example, in an
article by Janes International Defense Review (2014), they give the example of putting a
photographing satellite in a lower orbit. This is due to the fact that a closer orbit would mean
better pictures of the target. However, it is also stated that satellites that are larger have a more
diverse selection of purposes. They function as things like telescopes or cameras from a further
point than inner orbiting satellites would be. Due to the fact that they are more vulnerable to the
possibility of colliding with debris in space, they are also made to be more durable. With the
understanding of how orbits work, NASA not only knows the type of satellite needed for a
specific job in a specific orbit, but they can also reduce costs by not wasting materials if they
were to only make large commercial satellites for all of their research and commercial needs. If
they could build some big and some small satellites rather than all big satellites, they save money
on construction (para. 10, 11, and 20). It can be seen that NASA can actually save money by
taking orbits into account, and they can have a better understanding on what technology must be
Taking Orbits Into Account

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT

Why the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Takes Orbits Under
Consideration
added to their satellites. These are only two more reasons why NASA must take orbits into
consideration. It is due to these reasons and many others that NASA must know how orbits move
objects in space.
Orbits, in the end, affect NASAs missions in many different ways. They cause NASA to
not only consider how their shuttles and satellites will move in space, but they must use orbits to
consider what funding and technology must go into their projects. Some could say that things
like thrust and considering the speed needed to break atmosphere and stay on course are
important factors as well, but orbits are a big determining factor when it comes to these topics.
As their projects continue in the future, there is no drought that orbits will never go
unconsidered. These forces will always be kept in NASAs minds, and will always be among the
most important factors in NASAs planning.

References

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT


Big versus small: the challenge of satellite advancement. (2014). Janes international
review, 12, n/a. Retrieved from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com
Brahe, tycho. (2009). Merriam-Websters Biographical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved
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Daniel Hudon's Page. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://people.bu.edu/hudon/
Giles Sparrow writes. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://www.gilessparrow.co.uk/
Hudon, Daniel. (2009). How johannes kepler revolutionized astronomy. Astronomy. 1, 56.
Retrieved from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com
Jane's International Defense Review. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2015, from
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McGowan, T. (2009). Space race: the mission the men the moon. Berkley Heights, NJ: Enslow
Publishers Inc.
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Sellers, J.J, Astore, W.J, Giffen, R.B, & Larson, W. J. (2005). Maneuvering in Space. In D.
Kirkpatrick (Ed.), Understanding space: an introduction to astronautics (3rd ed.)(p.192).
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education
Sparrow, G. (2006). Astronauts. White Lion Street, London. World Almanac Library

TAKING ORBITS INTO ACCOUNT


Tom E. McGowen. (2012, November 1). Retrieved May 11, 2015, from
http://www.illinoisauthors.org/authors/Tom_E._McGowen

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