The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) zooms around the Earth once every 90 minutes (about 5 miles per second), and in August 2008, Hubble completed 100,000 orbits! Although the HST was not the first space telescope, is the one of the largest and most publicized scientific instrument around. Hubble is a collaboration project between NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency), and is one of NASA’s “Great Observatories” (others include Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and Spitzer Space Telescope). Anyone can apply for time on the telescope (you do not need to be affiliated with any academic institution or company), but it’s a tight squeeze to get on the schedule.
Hubble’s orbit zooms high in the upper atmosphere to steer clear of the obscuring haze of molecules in the sea of air. Hubble’s orbit slowly decays over time and begins to spiral back into Earth until the astronauts bump it back up into a higher orbit.
But how does a satellite stay in orbit? Try this experiment now: