Why don’t these “thousands” of satellites fall back to Earth, if the likes of the ISS has to use booster rockets to stay up there?

The atmosphere doesn’t just “end” at a certain height. It just gets thinner and thinner.

In low Earth orbit, where the ISS is orbiting, there is still some atmosphere. It’s very, very thin, but it’s there. At the top of Mount Everest, just 5 and a half miles above sea level, you need oxygen to survive a long duration. At the International Space Station, 250 miles above sea level, you need a space suit.

Atmosphere, however, is still there – but very thin. Over time the ISS needs a boost to stay in orbit because it slows down due to atmospheric drag.

Most objects orbiting the Earth will succumb to falling eventually, but the higher they are, the longer they’ll stay. Some, way out in geostationary orbit 26,199 miles high, atmosphere is virtually non-existent, so those satellites will probably stay up there a few million or billion years.

We know gravity keeps the Moon in orbit. Why is there no gravity on the ISS?

This is an image of Newton’s Canon. Given a high enough elevation, shooting a canon-ball at increasing velocity will cause it to travel further and further until it just goes into orbit, falling around the earth.

That is what’s happening inside the ISS. It’s called free-fall – the same as Newton’s canon-ball.

The ISS is falling toward the earth. The only reason it doesn’t crash to the ground as it falls is because it’s also moving horizontally so fast that as it falls, the earth curves away and they just keep missing, again and again, around and around. That’s called an orbit.

This is why we don’t say the astronauts on the ISS are weightless. We say they are in microgravity.

As an example, let’s say you get into an elevator at the top of the tallest building in the world, and the elevator drops in free fall. Fun! You would fall at the same speed as the elevator and to an observer you’d appear to be weightless. In fact, if you held an orange, it would appear to float out of your hand.

That would end tragically, however, when the elevator hit the ground. Not fun anymore!

That tragic end doesn’t happen to the ISS because the ground just curves away under them and they keep missing Earth! Inside, however, the oranges float around and the astronauts float because the ISS and everything inside it is falling at exactly the same rate.

Therefore there is gravity up there – almost the same gravity that we experience on the ground. If the spaceship could stop moving forward and just hover somehow (it can’t) then everybody would be able to walk around just like we do here on Earth. It’s only because the ISS is in free-fall around the earth that the people and things inside appear to float.

Elon Musk’s Automobile to be put in Orbit around Mars


This rather large SpaceX rocket is called the Falcon Heavy. Inside is the automobile below, which SpaceX hopes to launch in orbit around Mars with a flight schedule February 6, 2018 (assuming it doesn’t blow up on the launchpad).

You just can’t make this stuff up. The automobile, which belongs to the founder of SpaceX Elon Musk, is a Tesla Roadster. If successful, the automobile could stay in orbit around Mars for a few billion years. The car will just be let go to float on it’s own ’round and ’round Mars.

I guess that’s in case you ever need to catch a ride to orbit Mars!

If an intelligent species preceded us on Earth and wanted to leave a record of themselves in a time capsule, then one of the Lagrange points would be a good place for it. Is anyone looking for one there?

Great question! You asked specifically if one of the Lagrange points could be a good place to hide a time capsule from the past. The answer is “no” because, you see, an orbit in a Lagrange point is inherently unstable and would eventually either fall to Earth or fall to the Sun.

According to space.com, “L1, L2 and L3 are all unstable points with precarious equilibrium. If a spacecraft at L3 drifted toward or away from Earth, it would fall irreversibly toward the sun or Earth, “like a barely balanced cart atop a steep hill,” according to astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Spacecraft must make slight adjustments to maintain their orbits.”

Lagrange_points

Why is the International Space Station not in a circular orbit?

Why is the International Space Station not in a circular orbit? The International Space Station is in a circular orbit around a globe called Earth. But if you try to stretch the globe out to flat map it looks like a sine wave pattern. This flat earth map is probably why you’re thinking it’s not a circular orbit. Below the image here is an animation of what’s really happening.

Because of the inclination of the orbit, the space station never actually goes over either pole. So in the sine wave image above you’ll see it seems to curve away from the poles. Below you can see how the ISS travels around the globe to produce an orbit on a flat map like above.

How come some things can escape gravity? After all, it’s supposed to pull everything down. Maybe it is density and not gravity.

It is escape velocity, once achieved, that allows us to escape. Here is an image to illustrate the point. Once you achieve escape velocity, gravity gets weaker as the ship goes outward, and it does not cause the ship to return.

AT_7e_Figure_02_26_L