Speeding Up and Slowing Down in Orbit

Spaceship flying above earth past a satellite
Credit: NASA

Speeding up and slowing down in orbit works just opposite to what you might expect. The larger a spacecraft’s orbit, the slower the spacecraft travels. So if you wanted to pass a spacecraft just ahead of you, you would have to fire a thruster in a forward direction. This would decrease your orbital energy and drop you into a lower orbit, where you will travel faster! The “passing lane” in orbit is always lower.

Categories: Flight Dynamics