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Gravitational force of attraction is a binding force. An object requires certain minimum velocity to break free from this attraction. We are required to impart object with certain kinetic energy to enable it to overcome gravitational pull. As the object moves away, gravitational pull becomes smaller. However, at the same time, speed of the object gets reduced as kinetic energy of the object is continuously transferred into potential energy. Remember, potential energy is maximum at the infinity.
Depending on the initial kinetic energy imparted to the projectile, it will either return to the surface or will move out of the Earth’s gravitational field.
The motion of a projectile, away from Earth’s surface, is subjected to variable force – not a constant gravity as is the case for motion near Earth’s surface. Equivalently, acceleration due to gravity, “g”, is no more constant at distances thousands of kilometers away. As such, equations of motion that we developed and used (like v = u+at) for constant acceleration is not valid for motion away from Earth.
We have already seen that analysis using energy concept is suitable for such situation, when acceleration is not constant. We shall, therefore, develop analysis technique based on conservation of energy.
We need to deal with two forces for projectile : air resistance i.e. friction and gravitational force. Air resistance is an external non-conservative force, whereas gravity is an internal conservative force to the "Earth-projectile" system. The energy equation for this set up is :
$${W}_{F}=\Delta K+\Delta U$$
Our treatment in the module, however, will neglect air resistance for mathematical derivation. This is a base consideration for understanding motion of an object in a gravitational field at greater distances. Actual motion will not be same as air resistance at higher velocity generates tremendous heat and the projectile, as a matter of fact, will either burn up or will not reach the distances as predicted by the analysis. Hence, we should keep this limitation of our analysis in mind.
Nevertheless, the situation without friction is an ideal situation to apply law of conservation of energy. There is only conservative force in operation on the object in translation. The immediate consequence is that work by this force is independent of path. As there is no external force on the system, the changes takes place between potential and kinetic energy in such a manner that overall change in mechanical energy always remains zero. In other words, only transfer of energy between kinetic and gravitational potential energy takes place. As such,
$$\Rightarrow \Delta K+\Delta U=0$$
Earlier, we used the expression “mgh” to compute potential energy or change in potential energy. We need to correct this formula for determining change in potential energy by referring calculation of potential energy to infinity. Using formula of potential energy with infinity as reference, we determine the potential difference between Earth’s surface and a point above it, as :
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