A Standard orbit
is a term from Star Trek: TOS
. Whenever the Enterprise
approaches a planet they are interested in, Kirk
orders the helm
to 'assume standard orbit.' This is not a circular or stationary orbit
, but rather a highly elliptical
one. The purpose of this is to maintain the maximum possible communications window
with any landing parties; as a result, the apogee
of the orbit is directly above the landing party
's position. Thus the ship will spend the maximum amount of time 'over the horizon
' and able to communicate with/transport
the landing party. Stationary orbit
would work as well unless the landing party was at extreme north or south latitude
, in which case the range would be maximized.
If the ship is doing surface scans or mapping, they probably use the same method our current spy satellites and planetary mapping missions like Mars Global Surveyor do, and use polar orbits. These north to south paths allow the ship to pass over every point of the planet in minimal time.