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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

what is a wave?
DAVID Reply
show that coefficient of friction of solid block inclined at an angle is equivalent to trignometric tangent of angle
DAVID
thanks for that definition.
Dodou Reply
Hi everyone please can dere be motion without force?
Lafon
no...
Enyia
Thanks
Lafon
hi
Omomaro
whats is schrodinger equation
Omomaro
l went spiral spring
Xalat
what is position?
Adhar Reply
position is simply where you are or where you were
Shii
position is the location of an object with respect to a two or three dimensional axes or space.
Bamidele
Can dere be motion without force?
Lafon
what is the law of homogeinity?
auson Reply
two electric lines of force never interested each other. why?
Sujit Reply
proof that for BBC lattice structure 4r\root 5 and find Apf for the BBC structure
Eric Reply
what is physics?
Abdulaziz Reply
physics is deine as the specific measrument of of volume, area,nd distances...
Olakojo
if a string of 2m is suspended an an extended 3m elasticity is been applied.... is hooks law obeyed?
Enyia
if a string of 2m is suspended an an extended 3m elasticity is been applied.... is hooks law obeyed?
Enyia
yes
Alex
proof that for a BBC lattice structure a= 4r/ root 5 find the APF for the BBC structure
Eric
if a string of 2m is suspended an an extended 3m elasticity is been applied.... is hooks law obeyed?
Enyia Reply
tell me conceptual quetions of mechanics
Syeda Reply
I want to solve a physical question
ahmed
ok
PUBG
a displacement vector has a magnitude of 1.62km and point due north . another displacement vector B has a magnitude of 2.48 km and points due east.determine the magnitude and direction of (a) a+ b and (b) a_ b
Kou Reply
quantum
George
a+b=2.9
SUNJO
a+b
Yekeen
use Pythogorous
Dhritwan
A student opens a 12kgs door by applying a constant force of 40N at a perpendicular distance of 0.9m from the hinges. if the door is 2.0m high and 1.0m wide determine the magnitude of the angular acceleration of the door. ( assume that the door rotates freely on its hinges.) please assist me to d
Mike
what is conditions met to produce shm
Enocy Reply
what is shm
Manzoor
shm?
Grant
Why is Maxwell saying that light is an electromagnetic wave?
Bong
1st condition; It(th e BBC's system) must have some inertia which will enable it to possess Kinetic energy 2. must be able to store potential energy
Calleb
I meant "the system" not the BBC'S....."
Calleb
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Manzoor
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Manzoor
GUlam Ishaq Khan INSTITUTE of engineering science
ali
Department of Environment Ionian University Zante Greece
why light wave travel faster than sounds
ALI Reply
Why light travel faster than sounds?
ALI
Light travel faster than sound because it does not need any medium to travel through.
alhassan
when an aeroplane flies....why it does not fall on the earth?
Frazali
As an aeroplane moves, it hits a wind,we have the wind flowing at the upper and lower zone of the aeroplane, the one that is moving on the upper zone moves at a greater speed than that of the lower zone, this creates a low pressure on the upper zone and a greater pressure at the lower zone.
Kipkoech
which thing of aeroplane moves it upward?
Frazali
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Manzoor
about force
Barataa
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Nesru
yea
caleb
It a privilege to be here
olajire
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Awode
hello
Manzoor
Light speed is more than sound speed. C=3×10*8m/s V=320-340 m/s
siva
A body of mass 2kg slides down a rough plane inclined to horizontal at 30degrees. find the energy that is wasted as a result of friction if the co-efficient of kinetic f
official Reply
ten applications of Newton's second law of motion
Alale Reply
Calculate the volume at S.T.P of a gas whose volume at -5° and 746 mmHg
Mlungisi Reply
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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