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2 Space
1. The earth has a gravitational field that exerts a force
on objects both on it and around it
Students learn to:
Defi ne weight as the force on an object due to the gravitational
fi eld

Gravitational field:
o A field within which any mass will experience a gravitational force
o Given by W = mg
This is a generalisation of Newtons 2nd Law of Motion
o The force on an object in a gravitational field
o Vector quantity
o Measured in Newtons (N)

Difference between mass and weight:

Measured in kg
Same anywhere in space

G = Gravitational Constant = 6.67 x 10-11

M1 = mass of larger object

Measured in N
Different depending on the size of the
gravitational field

M2 = mass of smaller object

D = distance between the centres of both objects

Explain that a change in gravitational potential energy is related

to work done
Potential Energy is energy that is "stored" which can be converted into other
forms of energy.
Gravitational potential energy (GPE) is the energy of a mass due to its position
within a gravitational field.
E.g. If a ball is placed atop a cliff, it will have the stored energy.
Keep in mind that GPE is equivalent to work done in moving something to a

W = Fs:
o W is work done(J)
o F is force applied(N)
o s is displacement(m)

From this equation, we can say that, if we take the Earth's surface as the point of
0 GPE, we can find GPE using:

GPE = mgh
o m is the mass of the object(kg)
o g is the gravitational acceleration of Earth(9.8ms2)
o h is the vertical distance between the object and the Earth's

Note that this equation can work with other planets as well, obviously switching
the value of 9.8ms-2 to whatever the other planet's gravitational acceleration is.

Defi ne gravitational potential energy as the work done to move an

object from a very large distance away to a point in a
gravitational fi eld

Gravitational Potential Energy is the energy of a mass due to its position

within a gravitational field.

Whilst on a small scale, GPE can be determined by Ep=mgh (See 1.2), on

a planetary scale we need to find a proper "zero" point (that is where the
GPE of an object is zero.)

All gravitational fields are infinite (See 1.1), hence the force acting on an
object only drops to zero if you at the furthest point from the centre of the

Subsequently, the GPE of an object at that point would be zero.

However what happens if you move from that point toward the
centre of the gravitational field. What happens is that you gain
kinetic energy in exchange for GPE, GPE decreases as KE increases.
Starting from the point of infinity you would then have (from zero)
an increasingly negative value of gravitational potential energy as
you approach the centre remember that as you get closer to the
centre and the value is smaller as a bigger negative value is a
smaller value.


First: Remember that W=Fd is for a CONSTANT force.


For a non-constant force, we would need to integrate Newton's law

of Universal Gravity. (Why? Shut up, that's why)

The limits would be infinite and the r since it is moving from infinite to r.

Perform an investigation and gather information to determine a
value for acceleration due to gravity using pendulum motion.
To determine the rate of acceleration due to gravity using the motion of a

Retort Stand

Bosshead and Clamp

Some length of string (1~1.5m)

Pendulum Bob (Some sort of attachable mass is fine.)


Metre ruler

2 12Rubber Stoppers

When a simple pendulum swings with a small angle (less than 10to the
vertical), the mass on the end performs a good approximation of the back and
forth motion called simple harmonic motion. The period of the pendulum, that is,
the time taken to complete a single full back and forth swing depends upon just
two variables:

The length of the string

The rate of acceleration due to gravity.

The formula for the period is as shown:


T = period of the pendulum (s)

l = length of the string (m)

g = rate of acceleration due to gravity (ms2)

1. Set up the retort stand and clamp on the edge of a desk shown below.
2. Tie one end of the string to the pendulum bob.
3. Clamp the string between the stoppers and adjust the length (Bottom of
stopper to middle of bob) to a desirable amount (0.9~1.5 cm is
4. Record this length in the results table.
5. Set the pendulum to swing gently (Less than 10from vertical is
desirable, 30is maximum) and use the stopwatch to time 10 complete
back and forth swings. Be sure to start and stop the stopwatch at the
furthest point or the closest point and not the middle.
6. Enter the time for 10 swings into the results table.
7. Repeat steps 3 to 6, shortening the string by 5~10cm until enough results
is obtained.
Sample Results
Length of pendulum

Time for 10 Oscillations Period


Period squared

Identify reasons for possible variations from the value of 9.80665

The value for the gravitational acceleration on Earths surface mainly has to do
with geographical location. The factors that cause these are:

Composition and structure of the ground:

o The composition of the Earth's lithosphere is not constant.
o As greater mass creates a stronger gravitational field, the
gravitational force would be STRONGER where the soil is DENSER.

The shape of the planet:

o The Earth is NOT a perfect sphere, rather it is an ELLIPSOID.
o It is flatter at the poles and bulged out at the equator.

As gravitational force is affected by distance (

) the
CLOSER one is to the Earth the STRONGER the gravitational force.
o Thus, gravitational acceleration is:
GREATER (9.83ms2) at the POLES
LESSER (9.78ms2) at the EQUATOR
Earth's rotation
o The spin of the Earth can reduce the effective gravitational force
due to a centrifuge effect as some of the weight force actually
provides the centripetal force for the Earth to rotate.
o As the Earth effectively doesn't spin at the poles and spins the
fastest at the equator, gravitational acceleration is:
GREATER (9.83ms2) at the POLES
LESSER (9.78ms2) at the EQUATOR


The distance from the centre of mass affects the gravitational force and
subsequently the gravitational acceleration at that point.
From that, Altitude will obviously affect the gravitational acceleration in
some way.
A body that is x metres above the planet will undergo the gravitational

acceleration of
Thus, the HIGHER the altitude, the LESSER the gravitational acceleration.

Gather secondary information to predict the value of acceleration

due to gravity on other planets.

The gravitational force on an object is determined by the planet's mass

and "radius".
o Subsequently the gravitational acceleration (g) would also depend
on those factors.

g is the acceleration due to gravity (ms2)
G is Newton's Universal gravitational Constant. (6.67x1011Nm2kg2)
M is the mass of the planet. (kg)
r is the radius of the planet. (m)

Analyse information using the expression "F=mg" to determine

the weight force for a body on Earth and for the same body on
other planets.

To figure out the weight of masses on other planets or places with a different
gravitational acceleration.
Say you're a lardass and you weigh like 200kgs.
On Earth, you'd have a weight of:
On the Moon, you'd have a weight of:

Space Launch and Return

Describe the trajectory of an object undergoing projectile motion
within the Earth's gravitational fi eld in terms of horizontal and
vertical components.

A projectile is any object that undergoes non-powered flight. (e.g. Ball

being kicked)

Upon being fired, the projectile follows a trajectory, moving through the

Galileo postulated that this motion of the projectile can be regarded as

two separate and independent motions:

Vertical motion (which we will use the y axis to plot)

Horizontal motion (which we will use the x axis to plot)

To analyse these equations, we take each of the motions separately

NB: As the motion is unassisted, we assume the only force acting on the
projectile is gravity.

Equations of motion

NB: For the following:

u is defined as initial velocity

It is assumed there is no force in the horizontal motion (e.g. no air


Acceleration in the y axis is gravity

Step by Step Method

Step 1: Define the polarity


Usually, we define up and right as positive.

This would mean that gravity or

ay is negative.

Step 2: Splitting the components of the initial velocity


As mentioned previously, projectile motion can be split into 2

components on a 2D plane.

See the picture to see how.

This means that:



Do this for EVERY projectile motion question. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

Step 3: Finding the maximum height


This occurs at vy=0

With that and v2y=u2y+2ay, you can find the max height by

NB: For a flat ground, this occurs at the middle of its trajectory.

That is, the vertex of the parabola, or at half the time of


Step 4: Finding the time of flight



y=uyt+12ayt2 where y is the difference in height of its

origin and landing place.


This usually gets you a quadratic. Remember the answer is in the



For even ground,

Also for even ground, time of flight is twice the time taken to reach
max height.

Step 5: Finding the range

x=uxt where t is the time of flight.

This is given by:

For even ground, maximum range is given by


Step 6: Finding the final velocity


Utilising vx=ux and vy=uy+ayt, we can find the horizontal and

vertical components of the final velocity.

With that, we can use


to find its angle

We can also use Pythagoras' Theorem to find its magnitude.

NB: An interesting question that came up was: what would the trajectory of a dropped
projectile be like if the projectile's frame of reference was accelerating horizontally.
If this acceleration is constant, it would be a straight line but the horizontal component would
be in the opposite direction to the acceleration due to inertia.

Describe Galileo's analysis of projectile motion.

Galileo Galilei was a scientist that proposed many things about projectile
motion. He claimed that:

Projectile motion was consisted of both horizontal and vertical

o He proposed that these components were:

independent of each other

occurred simultaneously

perpendicular to each other

Vertical acceleration was the same for all falling objects if air
resistance is disregarded
o This was equal to the gravitational acceleration of the
planet (9.8ms2)

o Attempted to prove this in a well-known Leaning Tower of

Pisa Experiment

Trajectory of a projectile is a parabola

o This made analysis much easier as many mathematical
developments were known for the parabola since the Ancient

A motion of an object is relative to its frame of reference and an

object has the motion of its intertial frame of refence.
o He tested this in his Crow's Nest experiment

It was thought that, if a ship was moving at a constant

speed, and a ball was dropped from the crows nest, it
would fall behind the ship and into the sea as the ship
would have moved.

Instead, it fell straight down onto the ship as if it

hadn't moved.

A person looking at the boat from an island from a

horizontal direction would however see a curves
trajectory of the ball, as the boat moved forward.

Explain the concept of escape velocity in terms of the:


Gravitational constant.

Mass and radius of the planet.

Outline Newton's concept of escape velocity

Newton's concept of escape velocity.

Newton conducted a thought experiment where a cannonball would be

shot from a very tall mountain on Earth.

He thought that the faster the cannonball was fired, the greater its
range would be.

On the diagram:

Black paths: This is what would happen if the speed at which it

fired wasn't fast enough to escape Earth's gravity. It falls back to
Earth as the radius of its path wasn't greater than Earth's curvature.

Red path: This is what would happen when the velocity caused the
cannonball to fall at the same radius of Earth, causing a circular

Green path: This is what would happen if the speed was

increased, causing an elliptical orbit.

Blue and Purple paths: Eventually, the velocity becomes so great

that it escapes Earth's gravitational pull and flies off into space.
These orbits are called Parabolic (Blue) or Hyperbolic (Purple)

A formula for escape velocity

To find a mathematical formula for escape velocity, 2 things need to be


The Law of Conservation of energy. This is so that Kinetic Energy

+ GPE = 0.

This is calculating from the minimum amount of energy needed

to escape, so that



ve is the escape velocity (ms1)

G is the Universal Gravitation Constant (6.671011)

M is the mass of the PLANET (kg)

r is the radius of the planet (m)

Identify why the term 'g forces' is used to explain the forces
acting on an astronaut during launch.

The term g-force is a measurement of a person's apparent weight in a ratio of

its normal weight.

Within a rocket, an astronaut experiences both gravity and the

acceleration from the Thrust of the rocket.
Thus, he would feel the reaction between him and the ground (mg) and
the acceleration of the rocket. (ma)
His/her apparent weight can therefore be given by: mg+ma. (Newton's
2nd Law)
Therefore, their g-force can be determined by:

NB: This is ONLY when the rocket is VERTICAL. If it is horizontal, it is simply:

This method of describing force has some advantages:

It is easier to compare forces with different people as it depends only

on the person's weight.

It is numerically easier to interpret than the normal force system.

Discuss the eff ect of the Earth's orbital motion and its rotational
motion on the launch of a rocket.
Launching a rocket into space requires the examination of various factors that
may affect the launch these are:

Relative Motion of Earth and Rotational Motion of Earth


There are many advantages of taking into account the relative motion of the
Earth to the Sun. The Earth's constant rotation can provide an orbital boost
during launch. Using the Earth's relative motion, launching a rocket to the East
will significantly boost the relative motion of the rocket to the Earth.

Analyse the changing acceleration of a rocket during launch in

terms of the:

Law of Conservation of Momentum

Forces experienced by Astronauts

Law of Conservation of Momentum:

This is how the spaceship is able to propagate in space at all.

The law states: "In a closed system, the sum of the momenta before
a change is equal to the sum of momenta after the change."

Before a launch, the spacecraft and its fuel are not moving, so their
momenta add up to zero



As the rocket ejects the fuel, it will move in the opposite direction
that the fuel was ejected at.



Also, assuming the exhaust speed is constant, therefore the

thrust of the rocket is also constant.
o Yet the rocket also has to also overcome gravity, so the net
force on a rocket is given by:





From Newton's second law, we can find the acceleration on the


However, as fuel is being ejected, the mass decreases.

And as shown by the previous equation, if mass decreases,

acceleration increases exponentially

Forces Experienced by Astronauts During Launch

Note that two forces act upon an astronaut during launch: the upward
thrust (T) as well as the downward weight (W or mg). Newtons second law
can be used to derive a simple expression for acceleration of a rocket that
is launched directly up (using the diagram above):
As described above, if the mass of the rocket decreases during flight and
the thrust remains constant, the acceleration of the rocket (and
astronauts) increases. Thus the force experienced by the astronaut
increases. Refer to the graph above to see how the forces change at
different times during the flight into orbit around the earth.
The thrust acts on the air under the rocket, not on the rocket and
astronaut itself
Typically 3g or grater is experienced

Identify data sources, gather, analyse and present information on

the contribution of one of the following to the development of
space exploration:
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935)

During his lifetime, Tsiolkovsky was a recluse, and almost a hermit. As a

result, he never achieved much.

However, he proposed many important new ideas that influenced

other scientists in their work on space travel.

His ideas couldn't be brought to fruition mostly because they

couldn't with the technology at the time.

He proposed 3 major ideas:

The first idea was the principles behind rocket propulsion.


Originally, people thought rockets could not be used in space as

there was no air to "push back on."

Tsiolkovsky used the Law of Conservation of Momentum and

Newton's Third Law to demonstrate that fuel expulsion could in
fact be used in space travel.

Thus, he was the first person to suggest the exploration of Space

using rockets.

The second idea was the use of liquid fuels


He suggested the use of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuels as

they were the lightest, and would provide the greatest exhaust

In addition, the use of liquid fuels allows for the exhaust speed to
be easily varied and controlled

This suggestion has had a large impact was it allows for the
intermittent firing of rockets and sequential shutdowns.
Some satellites utilise this heavily to switch orbits.

The last idea was the concept of multi-staged rockets


He visualised a 20 staged rocket train that dropped stages when

fuel ran out to cut weight and improve efficiency.

Although he did not build it, and that a rocket train idea was a bit
ridiculous, it was vital in launches with large payloads.

This would produce the most force as

He showed that fuel expelled one way will cause the rocket to
move the other way

It was used in the manned space missions like Apollo 20.

Other than that he also made some other developments:


Developed wind tunnels to study aerodynamics.

Investigated air friction and its heating effects

Calculated Earth's escape velocity

Presented ideas to help with high g-forces and weightlessness.

ASSESSMENT: Although Tsiolkovsky didn't directly impact space

exploration, his ideas are vital to spaceflight today.

Robert H. Goddard

Inspired by Jules Verne, Goddard decided to dedicate his life to rocketry.

He built and tested the first liquid rocket.

Unlike Tsiolkovsky, Goddard tested and engineered his own rockets,

patenting those that were successful.

His ideas of liquid fuel rockets in space were initially ridiculed, however his
continued success with many technical problems solves such as fuel
valving for throttle, start and stop, fuel injection, engine cooling and
ignition soon made it apparent that his work was valuable.

Two wars would boost his research into liquid fuel rockets used in both
space exploration and the military.

Analyse the forces involved in uniform circular motion for a range

of objects, including satellites orbiting the Earth

Objects do not perform uniform circular motion unless they are subject to
a centripetal force. This is a force that is always perpendicular to the
velocity of the object. That force causes the moving object to continually
change direction so that it follows a circular path. The centripetal force is
always directed toward the centre of the circular motion.

The source of the centripetal force for a range of circular motions is listed
Circular motion

Source of centripetal force

Ball on a string whirled in a


Tension in the string

Car driving around a corner

Friction between the tyres and the road

Satellite orbiting the Earth

Gravitational attraction between the Earth

and the satellite

Compare qualitatively low Earth and geo-stationary orbits

A low Earth orbit is an orbit that lies above the Earths atmosphere but
below the van Allen radiation belts. This means that its altitude is from
approximately 250 km to 1 000 km above the surface of the Earth. A
satellite in low Earth orbit will need an orbital velocity of approximately 28
000 km h-1 to maintain the orbit, which gives it an orbital period of
approximately 90 minutes. Examples are the space shuttle (altitude 250
400 km) and the Hubble telescope (altitude 600 km).

A satellite in a geostationary orbit has an orbital period equal to the

Earths, that is, it takes one sidereal day (23 hours 56 minutes) to
complete an orbit. To achieve this, the satellite must have an altitude of
approximately 35 800 km, which places it near the upper edge of the
outer van Allen belt. Its orbital velocity is approximately 11 000 km h -1.
From the ground, a satellite in this type of orbit appears fixed in the sky,
which makes it especially useful for communications and weather

Background information outside the syllabus

If you want to work through these figures for yourself, the formulae you need are provided
below. They may assist you to understand what is happening in the next activity as well.
Note: the formulae and calculations here are beyond the scope of the syllabus at this point.
The centripetal force to maintain an orbit is provided by gravity.
Fgravity = Fcentripetal
GMms/r2 = msv2/r
M = mass of earth (kg); ms = mass of satellite (kg); G = universal gravitational constant; v =
orbital speed in linear terms (ms-1) & r = the orbital radius (m)
The orbital speed (v) can also be calculated from the orbit path (2r) divided by the period
(T) of motion measured in seconds.
v = 2r/T

Defi ne the term orbital velocity and the quantitative and

qualitative relationship between orbital velocity, the gravitational
constant, mass of the central body, mass of the satellite and the
radius of the orbit using Kepler's Law of Periods

Orbital velocity is the instantaneous speed (magnitude) in the direction

indicated by an arrow (directional) drawn as a tangent to the point of
interest on the orbital path.
Quantitative relationship: (where d = average distance between
centres of the two masses; v = orbital velocity; M = larger mass; ms =
smaller mass; G = gravitational constant; T = period of orbit)
Fg = Fc (gravity is the centripetal force)

Using Keplers Law of Periods,

Account for the orbital decay of satellites in low Earth orbit

A satellite in a stable orbit around the Earth possesses a certain amount of

mechanical energy, which is the sum of its kinetic energy (due to its high
speed) and its gravitational energy (due to its altitude). The lower the
altitude of the orbit, the lower the total mechanical energy is.

Satellites in low Earth orbit are subject to friction with the sparse outer
fringes of the atmosphere. This friction results in a loss of energy. The loss
of energy means that this orbit is no longer viable and the satellite drops
down to an altitude that corresponds with its new, lower energy. Ironically,
the satellite will be moving faster than before (recall that lower orbits

require faster orbital velocities) however the extra kinetic energy is

derived from the lost potential energy.

This is the process of orbital decay, and it is cyclic, as the satellites new
lower orbit resides in slightly denser atmosphere, which leads to further
friction and loss of energy. The process is not only continuous but speeds
up as time goes on.

Discuss issues associated with safe re-entry for a manned

spacecraft into the Earths atmosphere and landing on the Earths

All of these issues are related to the death of astronauts:

Heat: The considerable kinetic and potential energy possessed by an

orbiting spacecraft must be lost during re-entry. As the atmosphere
decelerates the spacecraft, the energy is converted into a great deal of
heat. This heat must be tolerated and/or minimised. The heat can be
tolerated by using heat shields that use ablating surfaces (as used on
Apollo capsules) or insulating surfaces (as used on the space shuttle). The
heat can be minimised by taking longer to re-enter, thereby lengthening
the time over which the energy is converted to heat. The space shuttle
uses this technique.

G forces: The deceleration of a re-entering spacecraft also produces g

forces, typically greater than those experienced during launch. High g
forces can be better tolerated by reclining the astronaut, so that blood is
not forced away from the brain, and by fully supporting the body. The g
forces can be minimised by extending the re-entry, slowing the rate of
descent. This strategy is employed by the space shuttle.

For a time during re-entry, there is a radio blackout caused by overheated

air particles ionising as they collide with the spacecraft. This may be a
safety issue if contact is needed between the spacecraft and earth at this
phase of its flight.

Reaching the surface: Even after surviving the issues listed above, the
spacecraft must touch down softly onto the surface of the Earth. Several
solutions to this problem have been employed, such as first using
parachutes and then splashing into ocean, or using many parachutes
before crunching onto the ground, or by landing on an air strip (as
performed by the space shuttle).

Identify that there is an optimum angle for re-entry into the

Earths atmosphere and the consequences of failing to achieve
this angle

For any given spacecraft wishing to re-enter safely, an optimum angle of

re-entry exists. For Apollo capsules this angle was between 5.2 and 7.2,
although this would differ for other spacecraft.

If the angle is too shallow then the spacecraft will rebound, due to
compression of the atmosphere beneath it.

If the angle is too steep then the spacecraft will decelerate too quickly,
creating too much heat and burning up the spacecraft.

The Solar System

Describe a gravitational fi eld in the region surrounding a massive
object in terms of its eff ects on other masses in it

An object of mass m1 produces a gravitational field in the space

surrounding it
A 2nd object of mass m2 placed in the field surrounding it will experience a
force due to the field
Similarly, m2 produces a field that acts on m1
Gravitational fields, like electric and magnetic fields, are force fields
Masses experience a force when placed in the gravitational field of
another mas
Defined as the force per unit mass

o G = acceleration due to gravity
o G = gravitational constant 6.67 x 10-11
o M = mass of object (kg)
o d = radius (m)

Defi ne Newtons Law of Universal Gravitation