Molniya orbits are popular with Russian communication satellites, because they spend a lot of time at high latitudes.

Europe and Canada are also quite far north. Do any European, American, or perhaps Canadian satellites use Molniya orbits? If yes, which ones are those? If not, why not?


2 Answers 2


The vast majority of Molniya satellites are Russian, but a bit of research found a few. Wikipedia has a list of NRO launches that include a few satellites in Molniya orbit. Being NRO, and classified, it's hard to verify this claim, but it doesn't surprise me. A list of all Earth Observing satellites popped up a NASA satellite as well.

Other countries seems to prefer constellations of LEO satellites for communication at high latitudes, usually in some sort of a polar or otherwise high inclination orbit. There is also a special orbit known as the Tundra orbit, where a Geosynchronous, but not stationary, satellite orbits in a particular ground pattern over a particular region. Sirius Satellite Radio is the only current users of this particular orbit.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What resource do you use to search for satellites by orbital parameters? $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Aug 1, 2013 at 10:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I happened to browse along List of NRO launches and it does list some Molniya orbits. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Aug 1, 2013 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit: Nice detective work. I've been able to widen my net a bit, and found 1 NASA satellite, and several ported classified satellites. Still, there just isn't much in that Molniya orbits outside of Russia... $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Aug 1, 2013 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ The SBIRS program has some satellite in HEO orbits: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space-Based_Infrared_System#SBIRS_High $\endgroup$
    – Andrew W.
    Apr 18, 2016 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ Molniya and sub-Molniya orbits have been proposed to optimize SSPS architecture for India and in a general sense: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273117710003959, earthspaceagency.org/space-analysis/…. These are proposals, not actual use. One article claims the Sirius satellites are in sub-Molniya orbits. I guess you can claim any high-inclination high-apogee orbit to be sub-Molniya $\endgroup$
    – Kengineer
    Jun 25, 2016 at 19:06

I can't find TLEs, but here are two US satellites in Molniya orbits:

From the Southwest Research Institute's page for the TWINS mission:

TWINS flies as a mission of opportunity on two high-inclination, high altitude spacecraft provided by a non-NASA US government organization. Each spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized and approximately nadir pointing, and is placed in a Molniya orbit with 63.4° inclination and 7.2 RE apogee, an ideal orbit for magnetospheric imaging. TWINS began its stereo imaging mission in June 2008.

enter image description here

The Wikipedia page for TWINS says:


$$T = 2 \pi \sqrt{a^3 / GM_E}$$

from this answer with $GM_E\approx$ 3.986E+14 m^3/s^2 one can verify these have periods of a half-sidereal day.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.