Relative positions of satellite and observer at beginning and endofsynodic period
could visualize the orbit of the spacecraft against thebackground of fixed stars, and determine the periodby timing the interval between successive passagesover some point in that background. His measure-ment would then indicate the time needed to makeone complete transit of the ellipse and would becalled the
period of revolution. The word
means “of or relating to the stars.” Thesidereal period is not affected in any way by therotation of the earth under the satellite.Let us suppose, however, that the observer is notout in space but is standing on the equator, with thesatellite in
low earth orbit moving directly eastabove the equator. He uses his own position as thereference point for measuring the period. Then whenthe satellite has passed through one completeellipse,
will be behind the observer because therotation of the earth will have carried him a distanceeastward. The satellite will be over the observeragain only after
has traveled an
dis-tance eastward. The period as now measured by theobserver will obviously be greater than the siderealperiod.
is called the
refers to a meeting or conjunc-tion.
the beginning of the period, the position ofthe spacecraft over the observer results in a certaingrouping or meeting of the earth, spacecraft, andsun.
the end of the period the spacecraft will beover the observer again, and this same grouping ormeeting will be repeated.In practice, very few satellites are placed in equa-torial orbits. Most orbits are inclined at an angle tothe equator, as shown
the case of aninclined orbit, the spacecraft will not make succes-sive passes over the observer. The observer moveswith the earth on
circle in a plane parallel to theplane of the equator, while the spacecraft movesthrough an ellipse in a plane inclined to the plane ofthe equator. Thus the point at which the spacecraftpasses over the observer’s longitude changes witheach pass. For an inclined orbit, the time elapsingbetween two consecutive passes over the referencelongitude is the synodic period.In day-to-day operations, the practice arose
referring to the synodic periods simply as revolu-tions and the sidereal periods as orbits. The readerwill find this terminology used in news accounts.Thus, astronauts Borman and Lovell completed
orbits during the 14-day rnis-sion of Gemini