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Deutsch: Orbitaltransfer / Español: Transferencia Orbital / Português: Transferência Orbital / Français: Transfert Orbital / Italiano: Trasferimento Orbitale

Orbital transfer in the space industry refers to the process of moving a spacecraft from one orbit to another. This is a critical maneuver used to position satellites, space probes, and other spacecraft into their designated operational orbits after launch or during their mission.


In the context of the space industry, orbital transfer involves precise calculations and the execution of specific maneuvers to change a spacecraft’s orbit. This process is essential for achieving various mission objectives, such as placing a satellite into its operational orbit, transferring a spacecraft to another celestial body, or adjusting a spacecraft’s orbit for better data collection or mission flexibility.

Key components of orbital transfer include:

  • Hohmann Transfer: A common and fuel-efficient method used to transfer between two circular orbits. It involves two engine burns: one to move the spacecraft onto an elliptical transfer orbit and another to circularize the orbit at the new altitude.
  • Bi-elliptic Transfer: Another fuel-efficient method that involves three engine burns and can be more efficient than a Hohmann transfer for certain orbital changes.
  • Plane Change Maneuver: Adjusting the inclination of the spacecraft’s orbit relative to the equatorial plane, often used to position satellites into polar or sun-synchronous orbits.
  • Gravity Assist: Using the gravitational field of a celestial body to alter the trajectory and speed of a spacecraft, commonly used in interplanetary missions to save fuel.

Special Considerations

Orbital transfers require precise timing and accurate execution to ensure the spacecraft reaches its intended orbit. Miscalculations or errors in execution can result in the spacecraft entering an incorrect orbit, potentially compromising the mission.

Application Areas

  • Satellite Deployment: Moving satellites from their initial low Earth orbit (LEO) insertion points to their designated operational orbits, such as geostationary orbit (GEO) or medium Earth orbit (MEO).
  • Interplanetary Missions: Transferring spacecraft from Earth orbit to interplanetary trajectories, using maneuvers like gravity assists to reach other planets or moons.
  • Space Station Resupply and Crew Transfers: Maneuvering cargo and crewed spacecraft to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station (ISS) or other orbital platforms.
  • Orbital Adjustments: Periodically adjusting the orbits of operational satellites to maintain their positions, avoid collisions, or optimize their operational parameters.

Well-Known Examples

  • Apollo Missions: Used a series of orbital transfers, including trans-lunar injection and lunar orbit insertion, to reach and return from the Moon.
  • Galileo Spacecraft: Employed multiple gravity assists from Earth and Venus to gain enough velocity to reach Jupiter.
  • Geostationary Satellites: Often launched into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and then perform a final burn to achieve a circular geostationary orbit.

Treatment and Risks

Risks associated with orbital transfer include the potential for fuel shortages, which can limit the ability to perform necessary maneuvers, and the danger of navigational errors leading to incorrect orbits. Mechanical failures in propulsion systems also pose significant risks. To mitigate these risks, extensive pre-mission planning, robust simulation, and the incorporation of redundant systems are essential.

Similar Terms

  • Orbital Insertion: The process of placing a spacecraft into its initial orbit after launch.
  • Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM): Small adjustments made during the journey of a spacecraft to correct its path and ensure it stays on course to its target.
  • Delta-V (ΔV): A measure of the change in velocity needed to perform orbital maneuvers, critical for planning orbital transfers.


Orbital transfer in the space industry is a crucial maneuver that involves moving spacecraft from one orbit to another to achieve mission objectives. This process includes various methods such as Hohmann transfers, plane changes, and gravity assists. It is essential for satellite deployment, interplanetary missions, and orbital adjustments. Precise calculations, careful planning, and robust execution are key to successful orbital transfers, which are fundamental to the success and sustainability of space missions.


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