Module 3: Orbits and Systems


Examine the characteristics of orbits - shape, speed, etc. - using orbital simulators or the animations from the textbook support site.

Please discuss in your team, how these simulators can help your students understand Kepler's Laws and address the following questions:

A. First simulator: The Law of Ellipses:

  • At what point does the satellite move the fastest?
  • At what point does the satellite move the slowest?

B. Second simulator: The Law of Areas:

  • The yellow section shown will always be the same area, although sometimes it is thinner and sometimes it's thicker. How can this be the same area, yet have a different shape?
  • When does the satellite move the fastest? Slowest?

C. Third simulator: Harmonic Law:

In Earth-orbit, there's no ground to push against to accelerate (like a car). Instead, we have to deal with energy (kinetic and potential: total energy and the balance between the two kinds).

  • Does a satellite move faster or slower in a higher orbit?
  • Is there more or less total (kinetic + potential) energy in a higher orbit?

    (Hint: what would you have to do to go from one to the other? What would happen if a satellite dragged in the upper atmosphere and lost energy?)


TURN IN - Individually, answer the questions above.

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Montana State University

last updated 2/10/02