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Gravitational tractor for towing asteroids

  1. Nov 22, 2005 #1


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    Tex doesn't seem to work in preview mode anymore. So sorry for the hard-to-read formulas.

    In a paper recently published astronauts Edward T. Lu and Stanley G. Love propose using a spaceship as a "gravitational tractor for towing asteroids".

    There's some math I don't understand in this paper:

    Since the formula is in the form x=y=z, I imagine that if I computed them seperately, that I'd get 3 identical answers. I'll try the 2nd and 3rd approaches:

    Since it gives the asteroid diameter as 200m, and its density as 2g/cc, this means the asteroid's mass (M) is 8377580410 kg. It states the spacecraft is 20 tons. Tons has a few different meanings. I'm assuming they mean metric tons or 20,000 kg. Distance from center of mass is 150m.

    (6.67e-11 * 8377580409.57278 * 20000) / 150^2 = 0.496696224 N

    1.12*1.5^3*1.5 = 5.67 (no units. They all cancel, so how can this equal thrust? Also, there's no M (asteroid mass) in this formula. How can I compute the amount of thrust needed to hover over an asteroid without the asteroid's mass?)

    0.4967 N does not equal 5.67 does not equal 1 N. What am I failing to understand?
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2005 #2


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    The spaceship is angling its thrusters away from the asteroid to avoid hitting it - that's why more thrust is needed than GmM/d^2.

    Using google calculator, I also get .496 newtons for the force.

    The spaceship is angling it's thrusters roughly 60 degrees away from a straight-line thrust, which is why it needs 1 newton of thrust rather than .5 newton.

    60 degrees comes from arcsin(1/1.5) which is close to 40 degrees, plus 20 more.

    The second expression is dimensionless - but it should have a value of 1 with the parameters specified - except for the first constant, which is in newtons.

    The paper probably meant to write

    Thus T = 1 N * (complicated dimensionless expression)

    I don't know why they didn't write it that way :-(.
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