Orbital elements
Overview
Parameter
Parameter from Ancient Greek παρά also “para” meaning “beside, subsidiary” and μέτρον also “metron” meaning “measure”, can be interpreted in mathematics, logic, linguistics, environmental science and other disciplines....
s required to uniquely identify a specific orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...
. In celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of celestial objects. The field applies principles of physics, historically classical mechanics, to astronomical objects such as stars and planets to produce ephemeris data. Orbital mechanics is a subfield which focuses on...
these elements are generally considered in classical
Classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major subfields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...
twobody systems, where a Kepler orbit
Kepler orbit
In celestial mechanics, a Kepler orbit describes the motion of an orbiting body as an ellipse, parabola, or hyperbola, which forms a twodimensional orbital plane in threedimensional space...
is used (derived from Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces...
and Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them...
). There are many different ways to mathematically describe the same orbit, but certain schemes each consisting of a set of six parameters are commonly used in astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...
and orbital mechanics.
A real orbit (and its elements) changes over time due to gravitational perturbations
Perturbation (astronomy)
Perturbation is a term used in astronomy in connection with descriptions of the complex motion of a massive body which is subject to appreciable gravitational effects from more than one other massive body....
by other objects and the effects of relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Orbital elements are the parameter
s required to uniquely identify a specific orbit
. In celestial mechanics
these elements are generally considered in classical
twobody systems, where a Kepler orbit
is used (derived from Newton's laws of motion
and Newton's law of universal gravitation
). There are many different ways to mathematically describe the same orbit, but certain schemes each consisting of a set of six parameters are commonly used in astronomy
and orbital mechanics.
A real orbit (and its elements) changes over time due to gravitational perturbations
by other objects and the effects of relativity
. A Keplerian orbit is merely an idealized, mathematical approximation at a particular time.
and his laws of planetary motion.
When viewed from an inertial frame, two orbiting bodies trace out distinct trajectories. Each of these trajectories has its focus at the common center of mass. When viewed from the noninertial frame of one body only the trajectory of the opposite body is apparent; Keplerian elements describe these noninertial trajectories. An orbit has two sets of Keplerian elements depending on which body used as the point of reference. The reference body is called the primary
, the other body is called the secondary
. The primary is not necessarily more massive than the secondary, and even when the bodies are of equal mass, the orbital elements depend on the choice of the primary.
The main two elements that define the shape and size of the ellipse:
Two elements define the orientation of the orbital plane
in which the ellipse is embedded:
And finally:
The mean anomaly is a mathematically convenient "angle" which varies linearly with time, but which does not correspond to a real geometric angle. It can be converted into the true anomaly
, which does represent the real geometric angle in the plane of the ellipse, between periapsis (closest approach to the central body) and the position of the orbiting object at any given time. Thus, the true anomaly is shown as the red angle in the diagram, and the mean anomaly is not shown.
The angles of inclination, longitude of the ascending node, and argument of periapsis can also be described as the Euler angles
defining the orientation of the orbit relative to the reference coordinate system.
Note that nonelliptic orbits also exist; If the eccentricity is greater than one, the orbit is a hyperbola
. If the eccentricity is equal to one and the angular momentum is zero, the orbit is radial
. If the eccentricity is one and there is angular momentum, the orbit is a parabola
.
and an arbitrary epoch
(a specified point in time), exactly six parameters are necessary to unambiguously define an arbitrary and unperturbed orbit.
This is because the problem contains six degrees of freedom. These correspond to the three spatial dimension
s which define position (the x, y, z in a Cartesian coordinate system
), plus the velocity in each of these dimensions. These can be described as orbital state vectors
, but this is often an inconvenient way to represent an orbit, which is why Keplerian elements (described below) are commonly used instead.
Sometimes the epoch is considered a "seventh" orbital parameter, rather than part of the reference frame.
If the epoch is defined to be at the moment when one of the elements is zero, the number of unspecified elements is reduced to five. (The sixth parameter is still necessary to define the orbit; it is merely numerically set to zero by convention or "moved" into the definition of the epoch with respect to realworld clock time.)
(xyz coordinates for position and velocity) by manual transformations or with computer software.
Other orbital parameters can be computed from the Keplerian elements such as the period
, apoapsis, and periapsis
. (When orbiting the earth, the last two terms are known as the apogee and perigee.) It is common to specify the period instead of the semimajor axis in Keplerian element sets, as each can be computed from the other provided the standard gravitational parameter
, GM, is given for the central body.
Instead of the mean anomaly
at epoch
, the mean anomaly
, mean longitude
, true anomaly
, or (rarely) the eccentric anomaly
might be used.
Using, for example, the "mean anomaly" instead of "mean anomaly at epoch" means that time must be specified as a "seventh" orbital element. Sometimes it is assumed that mean anomaly is zero at the epoch (by choosing the appropriate definition of the epoch), leaving only the five other orbital elements to be specified.
Different sets of elements are used for various astronomical bodies. The eccentricity, e, and either the semimajor axis, a, or the distance of periapsis, q, are used to specify the shape and size of an orbit. The angle of the ascending node, Ω, the inclination, i, and the argument of periapsis, ω, or the longitude of periapsis, ϖ, specify the orientation of the orbit in its plane. Either the longitude at epoch, L_{0}, the mean anomaly at epoch, M_{0}, or the time of perihelion passage, T_{0}, are used to specify a known point in the orbit. The choices made depend whether the vernal equinox or the node are used as the primary reference. The semimajor axis is known if the mean motion and the gravitational mass are known.

+ Sets of Elements for Astronomical Objects
! Object
! Elements used

 Major Planet
 e,a, i
, Ω, ϖ, L_{0}

 Comet
 e, q,i,Ω, ω
,T_{0}

 Asteroid
 e,a,i,Ω, ω
, M_{0}

 TLE
 e,i,Ω,ω, n
,M_{0}
}
( with the notations of that article) characterizing the orientation of the coordinate system
from the inertial coordinate frame
where:
is in the equatorial plane of the central body and are in the direction of the vernal equinox.
are in the orbital plane and with in the direction to the pericenter.
Then, the transformation from the coordinate frame to the frame with the Euler angles is:
where
The transformation from to Euler angles is:
where signifies the polar argument that can be computed with
the standard function ATAN2(y,x)
(or in double precision
DATAN2(y,x)) available in
for example the programming language FORTRAN
.
are constants, and Mean anomaly
changes linearly with time, scaled by the Mean motion
, . Hence if at any instant the orbital parameters are , then the elements at time is given by
, Newtonian orbits are always conic section
s, so the Keplerian elements define an ellipse
, parabola
, or hyperbola
. Real orbits have perturbations, so a given set of Keplerian elements accurately describes an orbit only at the epoch. Evolution of the orbital elements takes place due to the gravitational pull of bodies other than the primary, the nonsphericity of the primary, atmospheric drag
, relativistic effects
, radiation pressure
, electromagnetic forces, and so on.
Keplerian elements can often be used to produce useful predictions at times near the epoch. Alternatively, real trajectories can be modeled as a sequence of Keplerian orbits that osculate
("kiss" or touch) the real trajectory. They can also be described by the socalled planetary equations, differential equations which come in different forms developed by Lagrange
, Gauss
, Delaunay
, Poincaré
, or Hill
.
/NORAD "twoline elements"(TLE) format http://celestrak.com/columns/v04n03/ , originally designed for use with 80column punched cards, but still in use because it is the most common format, and can be handled easily by all modern data storages as well.
Depending on the application and object orbit, the data derived from TLEs older than 30 days can become unreliable. Orbital positions can be calculated from TLEs through the SGP/SGP4
/SDP4/SGP8/SDP8 algorithms.
Example of a two line element:
Parameter
Parameter from Ancient Greek παρά also “para” meaning “beside, subsidiary” and μέτρον also “metron” meaning “measure”, can be interpreted in mathematics, logic, linguistics, environmental science and other disciplines....
s required to uniquely identify a specific orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...
. In celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of celestial objects. The field applies principles of physics, historically classical mechanics, to astronomical objects such as stars and planets to produce ephemeris data. Orbital mechanics is a subfield which focuses on...
these elements are generally considered in classical
Classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major subfields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...
twobody systems, where a Kepler orbit
Kepler orbit
In celestial mechanics, a Kepler orbit describes the motion of an orbiting body as an ellipse, parabola, or hyperbola, which forms a twodimensional orbital plane in threedimensional space...
is used (derived from Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces...
and Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them...
). There are many different ways to mathematically describe the same orbit, but certain schemes each consisting of a set of six parameters are commonly used in astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...
and orbital mechanics.
A real orbit (and its elements) changes over time due to gravitational perturbations
Perturbation (astronomy)
Perturbation is a term used in astronomy in connection with descriptions of the complex motion of a massive body which is subject to appreciable gravitational effects from more than one other massive body....
by other objects and the effects of relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
. A Keplerian orbit is merely an idealized, mathematical approximation at a particular time.
Keplerian elements
The traditional orbital elements are the six Keplerian elements, after Johannes KeplerJohannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican...
and his laws of planetary motion.
When viewed from an inertial frame, two orbiting bodies trace out distinct trajectories. Each of these trajectories has its focus at the common center of mass. When viewed from the noninertial frame of one body only the trajectory of the opposite body is apparent; Keplerian elements describe these noninertial trajectories. An orbit has two sets of Keplerian elements depending on which body used as the point of reference. The reference body is called the primary
Primary
The word Primary when used alone may refer to any of the following:* Primary , the larger of two coorbiting bodies* Primary is used for the name of the primary mirror in a telescope.* Primary , from Australia...
, the other body is called the secondary
Secondary
Secondary is an adjective meaning "second" or "second hand". It may refer to:* The group of defensive backs in American football and Canadian football* An obsolete name for the Mesozoic in geosciences...
. The primary is not necessarily more massive than the secondary, and even when the bodies are of equal mass, the orbital elements depend on the choice of the primary.
The main two elements that define the shape and size of the ellipse:
 Eccentricity ()  shape of the ellipse, describing how flattened it is compared with a circle. (not marked in diagram)
 Semimajor axis ()  the sum of the periapsis and apoapsis distancesApsisAn apsis , plural apsides , is the point of greatest or least distance of a body from one of the foci of its elliptical orbit. In modern celestial mechanics this focus is also the center of attraction, which is usually the center of mass of the system...
divided by two. For circular orbits the semimajor axis is the distance between the bodies, not the distance of the bodies to the center of mass.
Two elements define the orientation of the orbital plane
Orbital plane (astronomy)
All of the planets, comets, and asteroids in the solar system are in orbit around the Sun. All of those orbits line up with each other making a semiflat disk called the orbital plane. The orbital plane of an object orbiting another is the geometrical plane in which the orbit is embedded...
in which the ellipse is embedded:
 InclinationInclinationInclination in general is the angle between a reference plane and another plane or axis of direction.Orbits:The inclination is one of the six orbital parameters describing the shape and orientation of a celestial orbit...
 vertical tilt of the ellipse with respect to the reference plane, measured at the ascending node (where the orbit passes upward through the reference plane) (green angle i in diagram).  Longitude of the ascending nodeLongitude of the ascending nodeThe longitude of the ascending node is one of the orbital elements used to specify the orbit of an object in space. It is the angle from a reference direction, called the origin of longitude, to the direction of the ascending node, measured in a reference plane...
 horizontally orients the ascending node of the ellipse (where the orbit passes upward through the reference plane) with respect to the reference frame's vernal point (green angle Ω in diagram).
And finally:
 Argument of periapsisArgument of periapsisThe argument of periapsis , symbolized as ω, is one of the orbital elements of an orbiting body...
defines the orientation of the ellipse (in which direction it is flattened compared to a circle) in the orbital plane, as an angle measured from the ascending node to the semimajor axis. (violet angle in diagram)  Mean anomalyMean anomalyIn celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....
at epochEpoch (astronomy)In astronomy, an epoch is a moment in time used as a reference point for some timevarying astronomical quantity, such as celestial coordinates, or elliptical orbital elements of a celestial body, where these are subject to perturbations and vary with time...
() defines the position of the orbiting body along the ellipse at a specific time (the "epoch").
The mean anomaly is a mathematically convenient "angle" which varies linearly with time, but which does not correspond to a real geometric angle. It can be converted into the true anomaly
True anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the true anomaly is an angular parameter that defines the position of a body moving along a Keplerian orbit. It is the angle between the direction of periapsis and the current position of the body, as seen from the main focus of the ellipse .The true anomaly is usually...
, which does represent the real geometric angle in the plane of the ellipse, between periapsis (closest approach to the central body) and the position of the orbiting object at any given time. Thus, the true anomaly is shown as the red angle in the diagram, and the mean anomaly is not shown.
The angles of inclination, longitude of the ascending node, and argument of periapsis can also be described as the Euler angles
Euler angles
The Euler angles are three angles introduced by Leonhard Euler to describe the orientation of a rigid body. To describe such an orientation in 3dimensional Euclidean space three parameters are required...
defining the orientation of the orbit relative to the reference coordinate system.
Note that nonelliptic orbits also exist; If the eccentricity is greater than one, the orbit is a hyperbola
Hyperbola
In mathematics a hyperbola is a curve, specifically a smooth curve that lies in a plane, which can be defined either by its geometric properties or by the kinds of equations for which it is the solution set. A hyperbola has two pieces, called connected components or branches, which are mirror...
. If the eccentricity is equal to one and the angular momentum is zero, the orbit is radial
Radial trajectory
In astrodynamics and celestial mechanics a radial trajectory is a Kepler orbit with zero angular momentum. Two objects in a radial trajectory move directly towards or away from each other in a straight line. Classification :...
. If the eccentricity is one and there is angular momentum, the orbit is a parabola
Parabola
In mathematics, the parabola is a conic section, the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane parallel to a generating straight line of that surface...
.
Required parameters
Given an inertial frame of referenceInertial frame of reference
In physics, an inertial frame of reference is a frame of reference that describes time homogeneously and space homogeneously, isotropically, and in a timeindependent manner.All inertial frames are in a state of constant, rectilinear motion with respect to one another; they are not...
and an arbitrary epoch
Epoch (astronomy)
In astronomy, an epoch is a moment in time used as a reference point for some timevarying astronomical quantity, such as celestial coordinates, or elliptical orbital elements of a celestial body, where these are subject to perturbations and vary with time...
(a specified point in time), exactly six parameters are necessary to unambiguously define an arbitrary and unperturbed orbit.
This is because the problem contains six degrees of freedom. These correspond to the three spatial dimension
Dimension
In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it...
s which define position (the x, y, z in a Cartesian coordinate system
Cartesian coordinate system
A Cartesian coordinate system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length...
), plus the velocity in each of these dimensions. These can be described as orbital state vectors
Orbital state vectors
In astrodynamics or celestial dynamics orbital state vectors are vectors of position and velocity that together with their time uniquely determine the state of an orbiting body....
, but this is often an inconvenient way to represent an orbit, which is why Keplerian elements (described below) are commonly used instead.
Sometimes the epoch is considered a "seventh" orbital parameter, rather than part of the reference frame.
If the epoch is defined to be at the moment when one of the elements is zero, the number of unspecified elements is reduced to five. (The sixth parameter is still necessary to define the orbit; it is merely numerically set to zero by convention or "moved" into the definition of the epoch with respect to realworld clock time.)
Alternative parametrizations
Keplerian elements can be obtained from orbital state vectorsOrbital state vectors
In astrodynamics or celestial dynamics orbital state vectors are vectors of position and velocity that together with their time uniquely determine the state of an orbiting body....
(xyz coordinates for position and velocity) by manual transformations or with computer software.
Other orbital parameters can be computed from the Keplerian elements such as the period
Orbital period
The orbital period is the time taken for a given object to make one complete orbit about another object.When mentioned without further qualification in astronomy this refers to the sidereal period of an astronomical object, which is calculated with respect to the stars.There are several kinds of...
, apoapsis, and periapsis
Apsis
An apsis , plural apsides , is the point of greatest or least distance of a body from one of the foci of its elliptical orbit. In modern celestial mechanics this focus is also the center of attraction, which is usually the center of mass of the system...
. (When orbiting the earth, the last two terms are known as the apogee and perigee.) It is common to specify the period instead of the semimajor axis in Keplerian element sets, as each can be computed from the other provided the standard gravitational parameter
Standard gravitational parameter
In astrodynamics, the standard gravitational parameter μ of a celestial body is the product of the gravitational constant G and the mass M of the body.\mu=GM \ The SI units of the standard gravitational parameter are m3s−2....
, GM, is given for the central body.
Instead of the mean anomaly
Mean anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....
at epoch
Epoch (astronomy)
In astronomy, an epoch is a moment in time used as a reference point for some timevarying astronomical quantity, such as celestial coordinates, or elliptical orbital elements of a celestial body, where these are subject to perturbations and vary with time...
, the mean anomaly
Mean anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....
, mean longitude
Mean longitude
In astrodynamics or celestial dynamics, mean longitude is the longitude at which an orbiting body could be found if its orbit were circular, and free of perturbations, and if its inclination were zero. Both the mean longitude and the true longitude of the body in such an orbit would change at a...
, true anomaly
True anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the true anomaly is an angular parameter that defines the position of a body moving along a Keplerian orbit. It is the angle between the direction of periapsis and the current position of the body, as seen from the main focus of the ellipse .The true anomaly is usually...
, or (rarely) the eccentric anomaly
Eccentric anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the eccentric anomaly is an angular parameter that defines the position of a body that is moving along an elliptic Kepler orbit.For the point P orbiting around an ellipse, the eccentric anomaly is the angle E in the figure...
might be used.
Using, for example, the "mean anomaly" instead of "mean anomaly at epoch" means that time must be specified as a "seventh" orbital element. Sometimes it is assumed that mean anomaly is zero at the epoch (by choosing the appropriate definition of the epoch), leaving only the five other orbital elements to be specified.
Different sets of elements are used for various astronomical bodies. The eccentricity, e, and either the semimajor axis, a, or the distance of periapsis, q, are used to specify the shape and size of an orbit. The angle of the ascending node, Ω, the inclination, i, and the argument of periapsis, ω, or the longitude of periapsis, ϖ, specify the orientation of the orbit in its plane. Either the longitude at epoch, L_{0}, the mean anomaly at epoch, M_{0}, or the time of perihelion passage, T_{0}, are used to specify a known point in the orbit. The choices made depend whether the vernal equinox or the node are used as the primary reference. The semimajor axis is known if the mean motion and the gravitational mass are known.

 { class="wikitable" style="textalign: center"

+ Sets of Elements for Astronomical Objects
! Object
! Elements used

 Major Planet
 e,a, i
Inclination
Inclination in general is the angle between a reference plane and another plane or axis of direction.Orbits:The inclination is one of the six orbital parameters describing the shape and orientation of a celestial orbit...
, Ω, ϖ, L_{0}
Mean longitude
In astrodynamics or celestial dynamics, mean longitude is the longitude at which an orbiting body could be found if its orbit were circular, and free of perturbations, and if its inclination were zero. Both the mean longitude and the true longitude of the body in such an orbit would change at a...

 Comet
 e, q,i,Ω, ω
Argument of periapsis
The argument of periapsis , symbolized as ω, is one of the orbital elements of an orbiting body...
,T_{0}

 Asteroid
 e,a,i,Ω, ω
Argument of periapsis
The argument of periapsis , symbolized as ω, is one of the orbital elements of an orbiting body...
, M_{0}
Mean anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....

 TLE
 e,i,Ω,ω, n
Mean motion
Mean motion, n\,\!, is a measure of how fast a satellite progresses around its elliptical orbit. Unless the orbit is circular, the mean motion is only an average value, and does not represent the instantaneous angular rate....
,M_{0}
}
Euler angle transformations
The angles are the Euler anglesEuler angles
The Euler angles are three angles introduced by Leonhard Euler to describe the orientation of a rigid body. To describe such an orientation in 3dimensional Euclidean space three parameters are required...
( with the notations of that article) characterizing the orientation of the coordinate system
from the inertial coordinate frame
where:
is in the equatorial plane of the central body and are in the direction of the vernal equinox.
are in the orbital plane and with in the direction to the pericenter.
Then, the transformation from the coordinate frame to the frame with the Euler angles is:
where
The transformation from to Euler angles is:
where signifies the polar argument that can be computed with
the standard function ATAN2(y,x)
Atan2
In trigonometry, the twoargument function atan2 is a variation of the arctangent function. For any real arguments and not both equal to zero, is the angle in radians between the positive axis of a plane and the point given by the coordinates on it...
(or in double precision
Double precision
In computing, double precision is a computer number format that occupies two adjacent storage locations in computer memory. A doubleprecision number, sometimes simply called a double, may be defined to be an integer, fixed point, or floating point .Modern computers with 32bit storage locations...
DATAN2(y,x)) available in
for example the programming language FORTRAN
Fortran
Fortran is a generalpurpose, procedural, imperative programming language that is especially suited to numeric computation and scientific computing...
.
Orbit prediction
Under ideal conditions of a perfectly spherical central body, and zero perturbations, all orbital elements, with the exception of the Mean anomalyMean anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....
are constants, and Mean anomaly
Mean anomaly
In celestial mechanics, the mean anomaly is a parameter relating position and time for a body moving in a Kepler orbit. It is based on the fact that equal areas are swept at the focus in equal intervals of time....
changes linearly with time, scaled by the Mean motion
Mean motion
Mean motion, n\,\!, is a measure of how fast a satellite progresses around its elliptical orbit. Unless the orbit is circular, the mean motion is only an average value, and does not represent the instantaneous angular rate....
, . Hence if at any instant the orbital parameters are , then the elements at time is given by
Perturbations and elemental variance
Unperturbed, twobodyTwobody problem
In classical mechanics, the twobody problem is to determine the motion of two point particles that interact only with each other. Common examples include a satellite orbiting a planet, a planet orbiting a star, two stars orbiting each other , and a classical electron orbiting an atomic nucleus In...
, Newtonian orbits are always conic section
Conic section
In mathematics, a conic section is a curve obtained by intersecting a cone with a plane. In analytic geometry, a conic may be defined as a plane algebraic curve of degree 2...
s, so the Keplerian elements define an ellipse
Ellipse
In geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...
, parabola
Parabola
In mathematics, the parabola is a conic section, the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane parallel to a generating straight line of that surface...
, or hyperbola
Hyperbola
In mathematics a hyperbola is a curve, specifically a smooth curve that lies in a plane, which can be defined either by its geometric properties or by the kinds of equations for which it is the solution set. A hyperbola has two pieces, called connected components or branches, which are mirror...
. Real orbits have perturbations, so a given set of Keplerian elements accurately describes an orbit only at the epoch. Evolution of the orbital elements takes place due to the gravitational pull of bodies other than the primary, the nonsphericity of the primary, atmospheric drag
Drag (physics)
In fluid dynamics, drag refers to forces which act on a solid object in the direction of the relative fluid flow velocity...
, relativistic effects
Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity, or simply relativity, encompasses two theories of Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. However, the word relativity is sometimes used in reference to Galilean invariance....
, radiation pressure
Radiation pressure
Radiation pressure is the pressure exerted upon any surface exposed to electromagnetic radiation. If absorbed, the pressure is the power flux density divided by the speed of light...
, electromagnetic forces, and so on.
Keplerian elements can often be used to produce useful predictions at times near the epoch. Alternatively, real trajectories can be modeled as a sequence of Keplerian orbits that osculate
Osculating orbit
In astronomy, and in particular in astrodynamics, the osculating orbit of an object in space is the gravitational Kepler orbit In astronomy, and in particular in astrodynamics, the osculating orbit of an object in space (at a given moment of time) is the gravitational Kepler orbit In astronomy,...
("kiss" or touch) the real trajectory. They can also be described by the socalled planetary equations, differential equations which come in different forms developed by Lagrange
Joseph Louis Lagrange
JosephLouis Lagrange , born Giuseppe Lodovico Lagrangia, was a mathematician and astronomer, who was born in Turin, Piedmont, lived part of his life in Prussia and part in France, making significant contributions to all fields of analysis, to number theory, and to classical and celestial mechanics...
, Gauss
Carl Friedrich Gauss
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician and scientist who contributed significantly to many fields, including number theory, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy and optics.Sometimes referred to as the Princeps mathematicorum...
, Delaunay
CharlesEugène Delaunay
CharlesEugène Delaunay was a French astronomer and mathematician. His lunar motion studies were important in advancing both the theory of planetary motion and mathematics.Life:...
, Poincaré
Henri Poincaré
Jules Henri Poincaré was a French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science...
, or Hill
George William Hill
George William Hill , was an American astronomer and mathematician.Hill was born in New York City, New York to painter and engraver John William Hill. and Catherine Smith Hill. He moved to West Nyack with his family when he was eight years old. After attending high school, Hill graduated from...
.
Twoline elements
Keplerian elements parameters can be encoded as text in a number of formats. The most common of them is the NASANASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...
/NORAD "twoline elements"(TLE) format http://celestrak.com/columns/v04n03/ , originally designed for use with 80column punched cards, but still in use because it is the most common format, and can be handled easily by all modern data storages as well.
Depending on the application and object orbit, the data derived from TLEs older than 30 days can become unreliable. Orbital positions can be calculated from TLEs through the SGP/SGP4
SGP4
Simplified perturbations models are a set of five mathematical models used to calculate orbital state vectors of satellites and space debris relative to the Earthcentered inertial coordinate system...
/SDP4/SGP8/SDP8 algorithms.
Example of a two line element:
1 27651U 03004A 07083.49636287 .00000119 000000 307064 0 2692
2 27651 039.9951 132.2059 0025931 073.4582 286.9047 14.81909376225249
See also
 Beta AngleBeta angleThe beta angle is a value that is used most notably in spaceflight. The beta angle determines the percentage of time an object such as a spacecraft in low Earth orbit spends in direct sunlight, absorbing solar energy. Beta angle is defined as the angle between the orbit plane and the vector from...
 EphemerisEphemerisAn ephemeris is a table of values that gives the positions of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time or times. Different kinds of ephemerides are used for astronomy and astrology...
 Orbital state vectorsOrbital state vectorsIn astrodynamics or celestial dynamics orbital state vectors are vectors of position and velocity that together with their time uniquely determine the state of an orbiting body....
 Proper orbital elementsProper orbital elementsThe proper orbital elements of an orbit are constants of motion of an object in space that remain practically unchanged over an astronomically long timescale...
 Osculating orbitOsculating orbitIn astronomy, and in particular in astrodynamics, the osculating orbit of an object in space is the gravitational Kepler orbit In astronomy, and in particular in astrodynamics, the osculating orbit of an object in space (at a given moment of time) is the gravitational Kepler orbit In astronomy,...
External links
 Keplerian Elements tutorial
 another tutorial
 Spacetrack Report No. 3, a really serious treatment of orbital elements from NORADNorth American Aerospace Defense CommandNorth American Aerospace Defense Command is a joint organization of Canada and the United States that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries. Headquarters NORAD is located at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado...
(in pdf format)  Celestrak TwoLine Elements FAQ
 The JPL HORIZONS online ephemeris. Also furnishes orbital elements for a large number of solar system objects.
 NASA Planetary Satellite Mean Orbital Parameters.
 [ftp://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/pub/eph/planets/README.txt Introduction to exporting JPL planetary and lunar ephemerides]
 State vectors: VEC2TLE Access to VEC2TLE software