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Escape Velocity

In early 2018, Elon Musk created headlines by launching his Tesla Roadster into space, playing David Bowie’s “Starman” on repeat as it created its slow journey by means of space. This was a exciting publicity stunt. But how the Roadster got to space is an even cooler story.

The Roadster hitched a ride on the newest SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy, as it created its maiden voyage into space. At the time of its launch, the Falcon Heavy was the most strong operational rocket in the planet (although not in history).

Did you know?

The Falcon Heavy weighs virtually 1.five million kilograms! 

Falcon Heavy launch to David Bowie’s Starman (2018) by SpaceX (1:53 min.).

How do you launch some thing into space?

You could possibly be questioning about how really hard it is to launch some thing that huge. How quickly does it will need to go? Surprisingly, obtaining something into deep space (beyond the Earth’s orbit) from the surface of the Earth—the Falcon Heavy, a Roadster, or even a baseball—requires the exact same launch speed. This speed is known as escape velocity, because it is just sufficient speed to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth. 

But why is the escape velocity the exact same, no matter the mass of the object? The cause is that mass and escape velocity are not connected. For instance, say you wanted to drive one hundred km in an hour. It would not matter if you have been driving a tiny vehicle or a major transport truck. You would nonetheless will need to drive at a speed of one hundred km/h to attain this purpose.

So what specifically is the escape velocity from the surface of the Earth? It is a whopping 11.two km/s (kilometres per second). That is additional than 40 000 km/h. At that speed, you could travel from the North Pole to the South Pole in about 21 minutes!

Misconception Alert

Going into Space vs. Escape Velocity

Most satellites and spacecraft sent into space do not attain escape velocity! Space is normally viewed as to get started at an altitude of one hundred km (this is recognized as the Kármán line). If a rocket goes quickly sufficient and higher sufficient to enter space but does not attain escape velocity, it will enter orbit about the Earth. The International Space Station and quite a few satellites orbit the Earth.

How do you calculate escape velocity?

Escape velocity depends on a quantity of elements. Let’s take a step back for a moment. Scientists have determined that the escape velocity for any huge object (such as a planet or star) can be calculated from the following equation:

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ve = √(2GM/r)

Diagram displaying the partnership among escape velocity and the radius of the planet, the mass of the planet and Newton’s universal continual of gravity (© 2019 Let’s Speak Science).


The M in the equation represents the mass of the planet. Planets with additional mass are tougher to escape than planets with much less mass. This is since the additional mass a planet has, the stronger its force of gravity. For instance, when you watch footage of astronauts jumping on the Moon, it appears effortless. This is since the Moon’s mass (and thus its gravity) is significantly much less than Earth’s. 

Did you know?

As of 2019, only 24 humans have ever reached escape velocity. They have been the crews of the Apollo missions that flew to the Moon among 1968 and 1972.

The r in the equation represents radius, which is the distance among the centre of the planet and the object that is attempting to escape. In other words, radius is the distance among the centre of the planet and its surface. As an object moves away from the planet, the planet’s gravitational pull will have much less of an influence on it. If the object moves far sufficient away, it feels virtually no attraction. When this occurs, the escape velocity will essentially be zero! 

Lastly, the G in the equation is a continual. Especially, it is Newton’s universal continual of gravity. For the moment, all you will need to know is that we will need this continual to make the equation function. G is about equal to six.67 × 10–11 metres3/(kg)(second)two.

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Now, let’s plug in some numbers to ascertain the escape velocity from the surface of the Earth. For M, we use the mass of the Earth, which is about five.97 × 1024 kg.

For r, because we are calculating the escape velocity from the surface of the Earth, we can use the Earth’s radius, which is about six.37 × 106 m.

We can now calculate the escape velocity for the Earth:

Infographic displaying how to calculate the escape velocity from Earth.

Infographic – Text Version

Escape velocity equals the square roots of 2GM more than r which equals the square root of two instances six.67 instances ten to the minus eleven instances five.97 instances ten to the twenty fourth more than six 378 000, which equals about 11.two kilometers per second.

You can calculate the escape velocity from any physique in space as extended as you know its radius and its mass. For instance, working with the above equation, we can calculate the escape velocity of the Moon. From its equator, the Moon has a radius of 1 738 km. It also has an estimated mass of 7.342 × 1022 kg. This indicates that the Moon’s escape velocity is two.38 km/s. That is significantly much less than the 11.two km/s it requires to get off the Earth. In the future, probably rockets will be constructed on and take off from the Moon rather than from Earth!

Escape velocities from planets in our Solar Method (© 2019 Let’s Speak Science).

Infographic – Text Version

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The escape velocity of Mars is four.25 km.s. The escape velocity of Earth is 11.19 km/s. The escape velocity of Venus is ten.36 km/s. The escape velocity of Mars is five.03 km/s. The escape velocity of Saturn is 36.09 km/s. The escape velocity of Uranus is 21.38 km/s. The escape velocity of Neptune is 23.56 km/s. The escape velocity of Jupiter is 60.20 km/s.

We’ve taken a initial glimpse at the rocket science required to get the Falcon Heavy (and a Roadster playing David Bowie) into space. All we will need to do is accelerate the rocket to 11.two km/s and point it upwards. As the scientists and engineers at SpaceX know properly, acceleration and pointing the rockets are the really hard element! 

Did you know?

As of 2019, the most strong rocket ever created was NASA’s Saturn V. It was the rocket utilised to get astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.


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