A geosynchronous transfer orbit
or geostationary transfer orbit
) is a Hohmann transfer orbit used to reach geosynchronous or geostationary orbit using high thrust chemical engines. It is a highly elliptical Earth orbit with an apogee of 42,164 km (26,199 mi), or 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above sea level, which corresponds to the geostationary (GEO) altitude. The period of a standard geosynchronous transfer orbit is about 10.5 hours. The argument of perigee is such that apogee occurs on or near the equator. Perigee can be anywhere above the atmosphere, but is usually restricted to a few hundred kilometers above the Earth's surface to reduce launcher delta-V (
V) requirements and to limit the orbital lifetime of the spent booster so as to curtail space junk. If using low-thrust engines such as electrical propulsion to get from the transfer orbit to geostationary orbit, the transfer orbit can be supersynchronous (having an apogee above the final geosynchronous orbit). This method however takes much longer to achieve due to the low thrust injected into the orbit. The typical launch vehicle injects the satellite to a supersynchronous orbit having the apogee above 42,164 km. The satellite's low thrust engines are thrusted continuously around the geostationary transfer orbits in an inertial direction. This inertial direction is set to be in the velocity vector at apogee but with an outer plane direction. The outer plane direction removes the initial inclination set by the initial transfer orbit while the inner plane direction raises simultaneously the perigee and lowers the apogee of the intermediate geostationary transfer orbit. In case of using the Hohmann transfer orbit, only a few days are required to reach the geosynchronous orbit. By using low thrust engines or electrical propulsion, months are required until the satellite reaches its final orbit.