What Is The Difference Between A Spacecraft And A Satellite?

Satellites are often confused with spacecraft, but they are two very different things. What exactly is the difference between them?

What Is The Difference Between a Spacecraft and A Satellite?

Satellites are man-made objects that orbit Earth at altitudes ranging from hundreds to thousands of miles. They are usually used for scientific research or military purposes.

A spacecraft on the other hand is a vehicle designed to travel through space. It carries humans or equipment into outer space. There are three types of spacecraft: manned, unmanned and robotic.

We look at these differences in more detail and have written this article to tell you a little bit more about each one and how they both can continue to improve space exploration. Let’s jump in.

What Is A Spacecraft?

A spacecraft is a vehicle that travels through space. To do so, it needs propulsion systems and guidance systems.

These help the spacecraft navigate its way around our planet. A spacecraft also has a payload which is what we put inside it.

This could be anything from astronauts with their scientific instruments to food supplies. We’ll talk more about the different types of payload later.

The first spacecraft were built by countries like Russia, the United States, and France. However, since then many private companies have started building their spacecraft.

Some examples include SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic.

Spacecrafts come in all shapes and sizes. They range from small drones to large rockets. The most common type of spacecraft however is the rocket.

Rockets are powered by fuel such as liquid oxygen and kerosene. Once ignited, the fuel burns and produces thrust. Rockets are used to launch satellites into orbit.

There are several types of rockets. They include solid-fueled rockets, liquid-fueled rockets, and hybrid rockets. Solid-fueled rockets use a solid propellant.

Liquid-fueled rockets use liquid fuel. Hybrid rockets use a combination of the two.

There are two main types of solid-fueled rockets. One is called the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). ICBMs are used to deliver nuclear weapons.

Another type of solid-fueled rocket is the Soyuz Rocket. This was originally developed to carry people into space. Nowadays, it is mainly used to send cargo into orbit.

Liquid-fueled rockets are much smaller than solid-fueled ones. They are used to launch satellites and probes into space.

Hybrid rockets are the most commonly used type of rocket today, though. They combine the best features of both solid-fueled and liquid-fueled rockets.

What Is The Difference Between a Spacecraft and A Satellite?

Unmanned spacecraft are vehicles without any humans on board. They are controlled remotely using computers and sensors.

Unmanned spacecraft are used for various reasons including scientific research and surveillance. They are typically launched from ground stations.

Robotic spacecraft are machines that perform tasks automatically. Robotic spacecraft are used to explore new planets, asteroids, moons, and comets.

They are capable of performing complex tasks autonomously. Examples of robotic spacecraft include rovers and landers.

What Is A Satellite?

Satellites are objects that travel through space. Satellites are usually placed in orbit around Earth.

There are three main types of satellite: geostationary, polar, and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Geostationary satellites stay at one point in space.

Polar satellites follow a circular path around Earth. LEO satellites move closer or farther away from Earth depending on how high they are orbiting.

A satellite can be used for many things. For example, weather satellites watch over us and collect data about the atmosphere.

GPS satellites allow us to know where we are at all times. Communication satellites relay information between continents. And some satellites even provide internet access.

A satellite can be used for commercial purposes too. Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix use them to stream movies and television shows. They also use them to connect with customers.

How Do We Know That Satellites Are In Orbit Around Earth?

We can tell if a satellite is in orbit because it has an orbital period. An object’s orbital period is its time taken to go around Earth once.

If you were to draw a line across the sky and count the number of times the satellite passes over a certain spot on Earth, you would get its orbital period.

The first known man-made satellite was Sputnik 1. It was launched by the Soviet Union on October 4th, 1957.

Since then, there have been thousands of other satellites sent into orbit. Some of these satellites are still active today. Others have failed.

What Is The Difference Between a Spacecraft and A Satellite?

What Is The Difference Between A Satellite And A Spacecraft?

A spacecraft is a device that is designed for traveling outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. However, a satellite is an object that can orbit the Earth, the moon, or any other celestial body. 

Spacecrafts are larger than satellites. They carry humans into space for longer periods so they can manually carry out research.

Spacecrafts are made of metal and contain engines. They are designed to withstand extreme temperatures and pressures.

Satellites are smaller than spacecraft. They do not carry humans into space. Instead, they are used to study our planet.

They are mostly made of plastic and glass. They may have cameras attached to them and are designed for primarily scientific research.

A spacecraft is controlled by a crew of astronauts. Astronauts control spacecraft using computers and after landing back on Earth, they can be reused.

But satellites are controlled by onboard computers and are used for communicating to Earth antennas with a large covering area. It contains more electronics and is also operated by stations on Earth.

Why Do People Still Call Them Both Satellites And Spacecraft?

There are two reasons why we call both satellites and spacecraft “spacecraft”. First, satellites are just small versions of spacecraft.

Second, spacecraft are used to travel to different parts of space. So, when we say “spacecraft,” we mean any object that travels through space.

This means since a satellite travels through space and orbits the Earth, it can technically be a form of spacecraft.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope are spacecraft that orbit the Earth, which means they are also artificial satellites.

The moon is known as a natural satellite of Earth, and the moons over Jupiter are known as natural satellites of its planet.

The famous Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft aren’t satellites, however, as they do not orbit any kind of object.

Why Do We Need Satellites?

Satellites help us understand our planet better. They give us a view of what’s happening on Earth. They show us where natural disasters are taking place.

They let us see what’s going on in our oceans. They help us monitor the environment.

Satellites, therefore, help scientists learn more about Earth. Scientists use satellites to study the ocean. They use them to measure temperature changes.

They use them to track storms. They use them to map land. And they use them to look at how plants grow.

Satellites have helped us discover new planets. In 1989, astronomers discovered 51 Pegasi b. It is the first exoplanet ever found. Exoplanets are planets that exist outside of our solar system.

Why Do We Need Spacecraft?

Astronauts need spacecraft because they are needed to travel to different places in space. They can go to Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto.

These are all locations in space. Astronauts, therefore, need spacecraft to explore the universe. They need spacecraft to study stars and galaxies.

They need spacecraft to find life beyond Earth and search for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).

Spacecraft can also take pictures of faraway objects. They need spacecraft to send messages into deep space and communicate with other spacecraft.

They need spacecraft to collect samples from asteroids, and finally, they can detect radiation coming from space.

Final Thoughts

We hope after reading this article, you have learned a lot more about spacecraft and satellites and how they can both benefit space exploration and scientific discoveries around our universe.

The main difference is that a spacecraft is a vehicle designed to go into space and be controlled by astronauts, whereas a satellite is simply an object that orbits the Earth.

Whilst satellites can be forms of spacecraft, it’s still important to understand the difference when it comes to space exploration, and we hope this article has cleared those differences up!

Gordon Watts