Exploration 3.4: Space Probe with Constant Acceleration

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When you studied projectile motion, you learned that for projectile motion the x acceleration is zero and constant (which results in a constant x velocity) and the y acceleration is constant and downward toward Earth with a magnitude of 9.8 m/s2. What mathematical curve describes the shape of the path of the projectile? Its shape is a parabola. It turns out that the shape of the path of any object that has constant acceleration and an initial velocity that is in a different direction than the acceleration is a parabola.

In the animation shown (position is given in meters and time is given in seconds), a space probe has engines that can fire on all four sides. Two of the engines engage at t = 2 s. Restart. The acceleration is constant and zero before the engines engage, and it is constant (but not equal to zero) after the engines engage.

  1. What is the direction of the x component of the acceleration after the engines engage?
  2. What is the y velocity before the engines engage?
  3. After the engines engage, how is the y velocity different?
  4. Now click here to view the velocity and acceleration vectors. Do they match what you predicted?

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Exploration authored by Aaron Titus with support by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-9952323 and placed in the public domain.

Physlets were developed at Davidson College and converted from Java to JavaScript using the SwingJS system developed at St. Olaf College.

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