Learning about natural and artificial satellites involves ideas of gravity, circular motion and radio communication. Discover some of the many uses of artificial satellites in New Zealand and beyond.

This resource provides explanations of the key concepts encountered when exploring Satellites – the ‘basics’ that every student should understand.


An object that orbits around another object.

Natural satellite

A moon or other naturally occurring object that orbits around a larger object such as a planet.

Artificial satellite

A satellite that has been made by people and launched into orbit using rockets.

Polar orbit

A type of orbit around the Earth where a satellite passes over each of the poles.

Geostationary orbit

A type of orbit where a satellite appears to hang over a point on the equator. This is possible because the orbital period of the satellite is the same as the rate of rotation of the Earth

Low Earth orbit (LEO)

An orbit at an altitude of between 200 and 2000 km above the surface of the Earth.


According to Newton’s definition, gravity is the force of attraction between all masses.


The motion or path of a satellite as it moves in circular or elliptical motion around another object due to the force of gravity.

Communication satellite

A satellite used to receive and transmit data signals to different parts of the Earth. These may be used for television, voice or data transmissions.

Orbital period

The time it takes for one revolution of a satellite. For example, the orbital period of the Moon is 1 month. The orbital period of the International Sace Station around the Earth is 90 minutes.

Find out more about satelites with this article that gives an introduction to our resources on natural and artificial satellites.


    Published 27 March 2013