The Slingshot Effect

The slingshot effect is an important consideration when sending a space probe further into the solar system. Many spacecraft have a limited amount of fuel that is normally reserved for manoeuvring, course corrections and other factors.

A probe may take advantage of the slingshot effect, as it provides a boost in velocity. This is due to the law of conservation of momentum.

Equation: m1v1 + m2v2 = m3v3 + m4v4

This equation clearly outlines that a massive planet such as Jupiter compared to a small probe, will exchange momentum to the probe giving a drastically greater velocity to the probe in comparison to the negligible decrease in velocity for Jupiter. As it interacts via the Gravitational Force, the slingshot is an almost perfect version of an elastic collision resulting in a significant orbital boost for the space probe.

Below is an example of the process.


As shown the gravity assist or slingshot effect is very useful to spacecraft providing the following advantages:

  • As mentioned before it helps reduce fuel costs.
  • Increases the velocity of the object.
  • Allows a change in direction or course path, depending on the entry and exit point.

Conclusively we can see that the slingshot effect is very beneficial to a long term project.