The orbit of satellites around Earth eventually decays, or so I read. This is typically caused either by atmospheric drag, or by tides. I would assume most satellites have a limited service life in orbit. Hence the question - What is the typical orbital life of a satellite? How long before it's successor must be launched into orbit ?

EDIT: For instance, a weather satellite

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    $\begingroup$ The answer depends on both the height of the orbit (or dominantly on the height of it's perigee if not circular) and the density of the orbiting body. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 24 '12 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee - to be precise, on the ballistic coefficient of the satellite. $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Jul 21 '13 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ Satellites often are also time-limited by on-board consumables: fuel for station-keeping, the redundant atomic clocks on GPS saellites... $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Jul 21 '13 at 21:19

Geostationary satelites are essentially for ever. This is becoming a problem since there are a limited number of places you want to put a geostationary satelite and most of them are full. Any collisions/explosions in geostationary mean debris will also stay there for a long long time.

For low earth orbit satelites it depends on their shape, altitude and the space weather. The worst case is a large object in low orbit with large solar panels and hence a lot of drag. The ISS loses 90m/day and must be constantly boosted as the orbit gets lower the drag is worse and the falling accelerates - when first launched the ISS would lose 500m/day at it's lower orbit. The minimum safe orbit is around 150km, anything that falls to this level will quickly succumb to atmospheric drag

edit: Hubble is at an orbit of around 600km, with no more service missions after the end of the Space Shuttle it will renter in between 10 and 20years, ie 2020-2030

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