Stamas – How Do Satellites Stay In Orbit?

Teacher: Stamas (


Have you ever wondered how satellites stay in orbit?  Try this fun experiment to learn about orbital motion!


An orbit is the curved path of an object, such as the path of a planet around a star, or the Moon around the Earth.  The path followed by the moving object is its trajectory.  The moving object itself is called a projectile.  Projectiles include the Moon, artificial satellites, and cannonballs.


Soon after Newton had obtained a physics degree in 1665, his university was temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague.  Working at home, Newton made many important discoveries about light, gravity, and in mathematics.  One discovery was a thought experiment called “Newton’s Cannon” that explains how satellites such as the Moon remain in orbit.

Online Activity:

Click on this link:

  1. You should see a planet with a large mountain on top of it.
  2. On the bottom, there is a slider labeled “initial speed.”  Initial speed means beginning speed.  It should be set at 3000 m/s.
  3. Click the “sound effects” box for cool sound effects.
  4. Click on the “Fire” button. What happens to the red projectile? Write down your observations.
  5. Increase the initial speed of the projectile by moving the slider to 4000 m/s, and hit “Fire.”  How is the projectile’s path different?  Write down your observations.
  6. Increase the initial speed of the slider to 5000 m/s, 6000 m/s, and 7000 m/s.  As the initial speed is increased, what happens to the path of the projectile?  Write down your observations.
  7. Increase the initial speed of the projectile to 7200 m/s.  What happens, and what do you hear?  Write down your observations.
  8. Increase the initial speed of the projectile to 8000 m/s.  How does the shape of the orbit change?  Write down your observations.
  9. In your own words, write down at least two complete sentences about how satellites remain in orbit.
  10. Email your conclusions and written observations to: for feedback.


For more information about Newton’s Cannon, go to:

I very much miss all of my students and hold you and your families in my thoughts and prayers.  We can make it through these times by staying at home, working together, and helping each other.  We got this!


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