Sciency Words: Orbital Vocabulary

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Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term (or in today’s case, four terms) to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together.

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Space travel really isn’t complicated once you understand the terminology. Words like left, right, up, and down don’t mean much in zero gravity, nor do words like forward or backward. If you’re aboard a ship that uses centrifugal force to simulate gravity, even the terms port and starboard might cause confusion. So in order to navigate in space, we need to use a whole new vocabulary.

As I discussed on Wednesday, I’ve started playing Kerbal Space Program as a way to learn more about space travel. Thanks to the game and various game F.A.Q.s I’ve found online, I’ve picked up four new sciency words every space navigator needs to know.

  • Apoapsis: the highest point in your orbital path.
  • Periapsis: the lowest point in your orbital path.
  • Retrograde: if you fire your rockets in the opposite direction to your movement, you’re firing them retrograde. This will cause you to slow down.
  • Prograde: if you fire your rockets in the same direction as your movement, this is prograde, and it will cause you to speed up.
A shot of my first spacecraft to successfully achieve orbit!  This was perhaps one of the proudest moments in my life (don’t judge me).

A shot of my first K.S.P. spacecraft to successfully achieve orbit! This was perhaps one of the proudest moments in my life (don’t judge me).

When you want to move your spaceship to a higher orbit, fire your rockets prograde. If you want to lower your orbit, fire your rockets retrograde. According to my research and my experience in Kerbal Space Program, lowering your orbit from your apoapsis (highest point) is the most fuel-efficient option. The same is true for increasing your orbit from your periapsis (lowest point).

These four terms are still new to me. I’ve only been playing Kerbal for a little over a week now. So if anything I’ve written here is mistaken, either in regards to Kerbal Space Program or real life, please let me know in the comments below.

P.S.: Today’s post is related to a series here on Planet Pailly about sciency video games. To find out more, click here.

3 Responses to Sciency Words: Orbital Vocabulary

  1. […] Friday, May 30: Sciency Words: Orbital Vocabulary […]

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  2. Spacerguy says:

    Gravity is an intrinsic property of mass which all harks back to Sir Isaac Newtons apple discovery. I love the little things like inertial dampeners etc which keeps the crew from ‘decorating’ the walls when the ship jumps to warp, hehe.

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