Is ISS orbiting with or against the rotation of Earth? Is it important in any aspect for the space station?

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    $\begingroup$ Because I like to state the obvious: Yes it follow the rotation of the earth around the sun $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ Yes on all three accounts. Staying in LEO follows Earth around the Sun. Prograde orbit, moving over the surface in the direction surface travels due to Earth spin. And spinning in the same direction as Earth, at one revolution per orbit, so its orientation to surface below remains fixed (e.g. the Cupola module facing Earth at all times). $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 8:09

2 Answers 2


The ISS orbit is prograde - in the direction of the Earth rotation. Prograde orbits are orbits with inclination less than 90 degrees. ISS inclination is 51.6 degrees.

These orbits are slightly easier to reach, because they don't require as much fuel, as you get additional "kick" from the Earth during launch. Retrograde (opposite direction) orbits are rare, because they require more fuel to reach. It would be inefficient to build the ISS in retrograde orbit, because all the craft would have to spend additional fuel to get there. The ISS orbit was chosen to make it accessible from the key launch sites in United States (Florida) and Kazakhstan (Baikonur).

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    $\begingroup$ There's only one space launch site in the world that I know of that regularly launches satellites into retrograde orbits and that's the Israeli launch site of Palmachim. They launch retrograde mostly due to the hostile relations between Israel and it's neighboring countries to the east, and a rocket carrying a satellite can very very difficult to distinguish from a rocket carrying a warhead, especially if you're trying to figure it out after it's launched and is heading (potentially) towards you. $\endgroup$
    – Nickolai
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, it is very easy to differentiate between them. They fly VERY different trajectories, with VERY different motor burn profiles. Orbit identification from a small number of observations used to be a routine undergraduate astrodynamics computer programming homework problem. (See [Bate, Mueller, White] "Fundamentals of Astrodynamics", Dover Books, for more details.) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, but when you are the neighboring country an actual missile would have a rather short flight time. The reply would have to be fired very quickly - you won't have enough time to watch the burn profile and determine it is actually hostile before it hits you. Launching out to sea sounds sensible. $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Nickolai Actually, Vandenberg AFB often launches spacecraft into sun-synchronous orbits, which, at a typical inclination of about 98 degrees, are ever so slightly retrograde. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnR.Strohm Israel uses the Shavit launch vehicle, which is based on the Jericho missile that they still use as an ICBM, so perhaps those two launch profiles aren't that distinct? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:36

It orbits same direction as Earth. You can expect all space stations always to be build to orbit in direction of earth. Saves fuel to reach them since you get extra boost while leaving Earth and less full again when slowing down when reaching the station. If it would rotate against earth the speed would be twice as night relative to you and you would need to spend more power to slow down. Or if you would chase it lose the extra boost leaving earth and waist there no fuel.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not correct. Launching prograde (in direction of Earth's rotation) saves ~ 465 m/s to orbital velocity, if launched with 0° inclination from equator. That changes a bit if you launch to ISS inclination of 51.65°. From Baikonur, where most launches to the ISS happen nowadays, you'd save about 321.5 m/s. Orbital speed of the station is roughly 7,660 m/s. So Earth's rotation would only have helped ~ 4.2%, if we didn't count atmospheric drag, and ~ 3.3-3.5% since we have to. $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 22:11

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