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Concept# Graveyard orbit

Summary

A graveyard orbit, also called a junk orbit or disposal orbit, is an orbit that lies away from common operational orbits. One significant graveyard orbit is a supersynchronous orbit well beyond geosynchronous orbit. Some satellites are moved into such orbits at the end of their operational life to reduce the probability of colliding with operational spacecraft and generating space debris.
A graveyard orbit is used when the change in velocity required to perform a de-orbit maneuver is too large. De-orbiting a geostationary satellite requires a delta-v of about , whereas re-orbiting it to a graveyard orbit only requires about .
For satellites in geostationary orbit and geosynchronous orbits, the graveyard orbit is a few hundred kilometers beyond the operational orbit. The transfer to a graveyard orbit beyond geostationary orbit requires the same amount of fuel as a satellite needs for about three months of stationkeeping. It also requires a reliable attitude control during the transfer maneuver. While most satellite operators plan to perform such a maneuver at the end of their satellites' operational lives, through 2005 only about one-third succeeded. Given the economic value of the positions at geosynchronous altitude, unless premature spacecraft failure precludes it, satellites are moved to a graveyard orbit prior to decommissioning.
According to the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) the minimum perigee altitude beyond the geostationary orbit is:
where is the solar radiation pressure coefficient and is the aspect area [m2] to mass [kg] ratio of the satellite. This formula includes about 200 km for the GEO-protected zone to also permit orbit maneuvers in GEO without interference with the graveyard orbit. Another of tolerance must be allowed for the effects of gravitational perturbations (primarily solar and lunar). The remaining part of the equation considers the effects of the solar radiation pressure, which depends on the physical parameters of the satellite.

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