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Q&A: General Astronomy and Space Science

Chandra Orbit
Artist's conception of Chandra's orbit path & radiation belts. (CXC/M.Weiss)
Chandra's Orbit
Q:
Is there a technical difference between a spacecraft vs. satellite? eg, all spacecraft can be satellites but not all satellites can be spacecrafts?

A:
A spacecraft is a vehicle or device designed for travel or operation outside the Earth’s atmosphere, whereas a satellite is an object that orbits the Earth, the moon, or another celestial body. The Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope are spacecrafts that are in orbit around the Earth, so they are also artificial satellites. The moon is a natural satellite of Earth, and Jupiter’s moons are natural satellites of Jupiter. The Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft are not satellites because they are not in an orbit around any object.

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