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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

is the eye the same like the camera
EDWIN Reply
I can't understand
Suraia
same here please
Josh
I think the question is that ,,, the working principal of eye and camera same or not?
Sardar
yes i think is same as the camera
muhammad
what are the dimensions of surface tension
samsfavor
why is the "_" sign used for a wave to the right instead of to the left?
MUNGWA Reply
why classical mechanics is necessary for graduate students?
khyam Reply
classical mechanics?
Victor
principle of superposition?
Naveen Reply
principle of superposition allows us to find the electric field on a charge by finding the x and y components
Kidus
Two Masses,m and 2m,approach each along a path at right angles to each other .After collision,they stick together and move off at 2m/s at angle 37° to the original direction of the mass m. What where the initial speeds of the two particles
MB
2m & m initial velocity 1.8m/s & 4.8m/s respectively,apply conservation of linear momentum in two perpendicular directions.
Shubhrant
A body on circular orbit makes an angular displacement given by teta(t)=2(t)+5(t)+5.if time t is in seconds calculate the angular velocity at t=2s
MB
2+5+0=7sec differentiate above equation w.r.t time, as angular velocity is rate of change of angular displacement.
Shubhrant
Ok i got a question I'm not asking how gravity works. I would like to know why gravity works. like why is gravity the way it is. What is the true nature of gravity?
Daniel Reply
gravity pulls towards a mass...like every object is pulled towards earth
Ashok
An automobile traveling with an initial velocity of 25m/s is accelerated to 35m/s in 6s,the wheel of the automobile is 80cm in diameter. find * The angular acceleration
Goodness Reply
(10/6) ÷0.4=4.167 per sec
Shubhrant
what is the formula for pressure?
Goodness Reply
force/area
Kidus
force is newtom
Kidus
and area is meter squared
Kidus
so in SI units pressure is N/m^2
Kidus
In customary United States units pressure is lb/in^2. pound per square inch
Kidus
who is Newton?
John Reply
scientist
Jeevan
a scientist
Peter
that discovered law of motion
Peter
ok
John
but who is Isaac newton?
John
a postmodernist would say that he did not discover them, he made them up and they're not actually a reality in itself, but a mere construct by which we decided to observe the word around us
elo
how?
Qhoshe
Besides his work on universal gravitation (gravity), Newton developed the 3 laws of motion which form the basic principles of modern physics. His discovery of calculus led the way to more powerful methods of solving mathematical problems. His work in optics included the study of white light and
Daniel
and the color spectrum
Daniel
what is a scalar quantity
Peter Reply
scalar: are quantity have numerical value
muslim
is that a better way in defining scalar quantity
Peter
thanks
muslim
quantity that has magnitude but no direction
Peter
upward force and downward force lift
adegboye Reply
upward force and downward force on lift
adegboye
hi
Etini
hi
elo
hy
Xander
Hello
Jux_dob
hi
Peter
Helo
Tobi
Yes what about it?
Daniel
what's the answer? I can't get it
Rachel Reply
what is the question again?
Sallieu
What's this conversation?
Zareen
what is catenation? and give examples
sununu
How many kilometres in 1 mile
Nessy
1.609km in 1mile
Faqir
what's the si unit of impulse
Iguh Reply
The Newton second (N•s)
Ethan
what is the s. I unit of current
Roland Reply
Amphere(A)
imam
thanks man
Roland
u r welcome
imam
the velocity of a boat related to water is 3i+4j and that of water related to earth is i-3j. what is the velocity of the boat relative to earth.If unit vector i and j represent 1km/hour east and north respectively
Pallavi Reply
what is head to tail rule?
kinza Reply
Explain Head to tail rule?
kinza
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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