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inclination

One of the six Keplerian elements, it indicates the angle of the orbit plane to the central body's equator. See Keplerian elements for diagram.

The elliptical path of a satellite orbit lies in a plane known as the orbital plane. The orbital plane always goes through the center of the Earth but may be tilted at any angle relative to the equator. Inclination is the angle between the equatorial plane and the orbital plane measured counter-clockwise at the ascending node.

A satellite in an orbit that exactly matches the equator has an inclination of 0 degree, whereas one whose orbit crosses the Earth's poles has an inclination of 90 degrees. Because the angle is measured in a counterclockwise direction, it is quite possible for a satellite to have an inclination of more than 90 degrees. An inclination of 180 degrees would mean the satellite is orbiting the equator, but in the opposite direction of the Earth's rotation. Some sun-synchronous satellites that maintain the same ground track throughout the year have inclinations of as much as 98 degrees. U.S. scientific satellites that study the sun are placed in orbits closer to the equator, frequently at 28 degrees inclination. Most weather satellites are placed in high-inclination orbits so they can oversee weather conditions worldwide. See orbital inclination. Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)