Do unmanned spacecraft like Voyager travel in straight lines?
The voyagers are travelling at about 36,000m/p/h so are they actually travelling in a straight line or are they kind of just travelling in an orbit around the sun while moving out because they're not going at the escape velocity?
All spacecraft that we send to other planets travel along a curved path, not a straight line. The idea is that you have an initial rocket boost that puts it in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, so that it will intersect with the planet you're sending it to. That's the most fuel-efficient way to do it.
In the case of Voyager 2 (which visited all four of the gas giant planets), the spacecraft was first put into an orbit that intersected with Jupiter. Once there, it was able to use Jupiter's gravity to slingshot into an orbit that intersected with Saturn. Then it slingshotted to Uranus, and then to Neptune. At Neptune, it was able to slingshot into what's called a "hyperbolic orbit". That means that it's moving along a trajectory that is only slightly curved (almost a straight line) away from the solar system. Because it left Neptune at a speed greater than the escape velocity of the Sun, it will continue to move away from the solar system forever.
Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:
- Podcast? Subscribe? Tell me about the Ask an Astronomer Podcast
- Subscribe to our Podcast | Listen to our current Episode
- Cool! But I can't now. Send me a quick reminder now for later.
- How do rockets move in space?
- When unmanned spacecraft accelerate in space, what causes them to slow down?
- If Mars is only about 35-60 million miles away at close approach, why does it take 6-8 months to get there?
- Why did the Pioneer and Voyager take only 2 years to reach Jupiter, while Galileo and Cassini took more than 5 years?
- How do unmanned space probes avoid running into things?
How to ask a question:
If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.Table 'curious.Referrers' doesn't existTable 'curious.Referrers' doesn't exist
This page has been accessed 23267 times since July 29, 2003.
Last modified: November 10, 2005 5:24:54 PM
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.
Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)