Background Info

A satellite is anything that orbits another object in space. There are both natural satellites and artificial satellites. An example of a natural satellite is the moon, which is Earth's natural satellite. Examples of artificial satellites include any machines that are sent into space and that move around the Earth, moon, sun, or a planet. The first artificial satellite launched into space was Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957. Today, there are more than 2,500 satellites orbiting Earth. Artificial satellites are used for radio, television, navigation, and other types of communication. They are also used for studying the planets or objects they move around, including being used to monitor weather.

Fast Facts

  • This video uses NASA's MAVEN mission as an example. MAVEN is an acronym that stands for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft.
  • MAVEN is a robotic mission that will study the atmosphere, climate, and potential habitability of the planet Mars. It will also study the planet's interaction with the sun and solar wind.
  • MAVEN's launch date is set for November 18, 2013.
  • After arriving at Mars in fall of 2014, MAVEN will use its propulsion system to enter an elliptical orbit ranging 145 to 6,228 kilometers (90 to 3,870 miles) above the planet.
  • MAVEN's eight science instruments will take measurements during a full Earth year, which is roughly equivalent to half of a Martian year.

For Further Exploration


Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Christina Riska, National Geographic Society

Educator Reviewer

Dianne Koval Butler, Manager, Education Outreach & Partnerships, Lockheed Martin Corporate Communications

Expert Reviewer

Buddy Nelson, Media Relations, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

National Geographic Program

Wildest Weather in the Solar System

Page Producer

Jason Wasser

User Permissions

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.

If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact for more information and to obtain a license.

If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.


Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner (download) of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.