Last modified on February 25, 2008, at 22:55

Orbital eccentricity

Orbital eccentricity is the measure of the departure of an orbit from a perfect circle.


In geometry, eccentricity (e) is a concept universally applicable to conic sections.

For the general case of an ellipse having semi-major axis a and distance c from the center to either focus:

A circle is a "degenerate" ellipse. In a circle, the two foci converge at the center. Therefore



A parabola is an extreme case of an ellipse and is the first open conic section. For any parabola:

Therefore, for any closed orbit,

Practical application

In astrodynamics, any given pair of apsides can predict the semi-major axis and eccentricity of any orbit. Specifically, for periapsis q and apoapsis Q:


By the same token, a and e can predict Q and q.




Subtracting the first equation from the second yields

From the above:


For , , the orbital radius, as one would expect.