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A collision in orbit

Consider two nearly spherical Soyuz payload vehicles, in orbit about Earth, each with mass 9000 kg and diameter 4.0 m. They are initially at rest relative to each other, 10.0 m from center to center. (As we will see in Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion , both orbit Earth at the same speed and interact nearly the same as if they were isolated in deep space.) Determine the gravitational force between them and their initial acceleration. Estimate how long it takes for them to drift together, and how fast they are moving upon impact.

Strategy

We use Newton’s law of gravitation to determine the force between them and then use Newton’s second law to find the acceleration of each. For the estimate , we assume this acceleration is constant, and we use the constant-acceleration equations from Motion along a Straight Line to find the time and speed of the collision.

Solution

The magnitude of the force is

| F 12 | = F 12 = G m 1 m 2 r 2 = 6.67 × 10 −11 N · m 2 /kg 2 ( 9000 kg ) ( 9000 kg ) ( 10 m ) 2 = 5.4 × 10 −5 N.

The initial acceleration of each payload is

a = F m = 5.4 × 10 −5 N 9000 kg = 6.0 × 10 −9 m/s 2 .

The vehicles are 4.0 m in diameter, so the vehicles move from 10.0 m to 4.0 m apart, or a distance of 3.0 m each. A similar calculation to that above, for when the vehicles are 4.0 m apart, yields an acceleration of 3.8 × 10 −8 m/s 2 , and the average of these two values is 2.2 × 10 −8 m/s 2 . If we assume a constant acceleration of this value and they start from rest, then the vehicles collide with speed given by

v 2 = v 0 2 + 2 a ( x x 0 ) , where v 0 = 0 ,

so

v = 2 ( 2.2 × 10 −9 N ) ( 3.0 m ) = 3.6 × 10 −4 m/s.

We use v = v 0 + a t to find t = v / a = 1.7 × 10 4 s or about 4.6 hours.

Significance

These calculations—including the initial force—are only estimates, as the vehicles are probably not spherically symmetrical. But you can see that the force is incredibly small. Astronauts must tether themselves when doing work outside even the massive International Space Station (ISS), as in [link] , because the gravitational attraction cannot save them from even the smallest push away from the station.

A photo of an astronaut on a spacewalk is shown.
This photo shows Ed White tethered to the Space Shuttle during a spacewalk. (credit: NASA)

Check Your Understanding What happens to force and acceleration as the vehicles fall together? What will our estimate of the velocity at a collision higher or lower than the speed actually be? And finally, what would happen if the masses were not identical? Would the force on each be the same or different? How about their accelerations?

The force of gravity on each object increases with the square of the inverse distance as they fall together, and hence so does the acceleration. For example, if the distance is halved, the force and acceleration are quadrupled. Our average is accurate only for a linearly increasing acceleration, whereas the acceleration actually increases at a greater rate. So our calculated speed is too small. From Newton’s third law (action-reaction forces), the force of gravity between any two objects must be the same. But the accelerations will not be if they have different masses.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

The effect of gravity between two objects with masses on the order of these space vehicles is indeed small. Yet, the effect of gravity on you from Earth is significant enough that a fall into Earth of only a few feet can be dangerous. We examine the force of gravity near Earth’s surface in the next section.

Questions & Answers

two particles rotate in a rigid body then acceleration will be ?
kinza Reply
same acceleration for all particles because all prticles will be moving with same angular velocity.so at any time interval u find same acceleration of all the prticles
Zaheer
what is electromagnetism
David Reply
It is the study of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. ... It includes the electric force, which pushes all charged particles, and the magnetic force, which only pushes moving charges.
Energy
what is units?
Subhajit Reply
units as in how
praise
What is th formular for force
Joseph Reply
F = m x a
Santos
State newton's second law of motion
Seth Reply
can u tell me I cant remember
Indigo
force is equal to mass times acceleration
Santos
The acceleration of a system is directly proportional to the and in the same direction as the external force acting on the system and inversely proportional to its mass that is f=ma
David
The uniform seesaw shown below is balanced on a fulcrum located 3.0 m from the left end. The smaller boy on the right has a mass of 40 kg and the bigger boy on the left has a mass 80 kg. What is the mass of the board?
Asad Reply
Consider a wave produced on a stretched spring by holding one end and shaking it up and down. Does the wavelength depend on the distance you move your hand up and down?
Sohail Reply
no, only the frequency and the material of the spring
Chun
how to read physics ncert?
Tech
beat line read important. line under line
Rahul
how can one calculate the value of a given quantity
Helen Reply
means?
Manorama
To determine the exact value of a percent of a given quantity we need to express the given percent as fraction and multiply it by the given number.
AMIT
meaning
Winford
briefly discuss rocket in physics
Ibrahim Reply
ok let's discuss
Jay
What is physics
Nura Reply
physics is the study of natural phenomena with concern with matter and energy and relationships between them
Ibrahim
a potential difference of 10.0v is connected across a 1.0AuF in an LC circuit. calculate the inductance of the inductor that should be connected to the capacitor for the circuit to oscillate at 1125Hza potential difference of 10.0v is connected across a 1.0AuF in an LC circuit. calculate the inducta
Royalty Reply
L= 0.002H
NNAEMEKA
how did you get it?
Favour
is the magnetic field of earth changing
tibebeab Reply
what is thought to be the energy density of multiverse and is the space between universes really space
tibebeab
can you explain it
Guhan
Energy can not either created nor destroyed .therefore who created? and how did it come to existence?
Suzana Reply
this greatly depend on the kind of energy. for gravitational energy, it is result of the shattering effect violent collision of two black holes on the space-time which caused space time to be disturbed. this is according to recent study on gravitons and gravitational ripple. and many other studies
tibebeab
and not every thing have to pop into existence. and it could have always been there . and some scientists think that energy might have been the only entity in the euclidean(imaginary time T=it) which is time undergone wick rotation.
tibebeab
What is projectile?
Nana Reply
An object that is launched from a device
Grant
2 dimensional motion under constant acceleration due to gravity
Awais
Not always 2D Awais
Grant
no comments
Awais
why not? a bullet is a projectile, so is a rock I throw
Grant
bullet travel in x and y comment same as rock which is 2 dimensional
Awais
components
Awais
no all pf you are wrong. projectile is any object propelled through space by excretion of a force which cease after launch
tibebeab
for awais, there is no such thing as constant acceleration due to gravity, because gravity change from place to place and from different height
tibebeab
it is the object not the motion or its components
tibebeab
where are body center of mass on present.
Balwant Reply
on the mid point
Suzana
is the magnetic field of the earth changing?
tibebeab
does shock waves come to effect when in earth's inner atmosphere or can it have an effect on the thermosphere or ionosphere?
tibebeab
and for the question from bal want do you mean human body or just any object in space
tibebeab
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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