Why the number ‘8’ is special for Lunar missions

14/02/2022

For any space project, the most important aspect that defines its overall goals is the Finance or project cost. A significant challenge that must be overcome is the high cost. Yes, for any space project, success doesn't come cheap. It takes careful planning in addition to resources that may not always be there at hand or on call.

Numerous missions to date have failed and the money spent on those has also gone to waste. Hence, a space exploration mission should be affordable. It should take into account the amount of money spent along with the results obtained.

Ever since Engineers & Scientists have tried to solve this problem by thinking about how to use the laws of physics to our advantage. Let's dive into one such important concept used in space travel.

When a spaceship or satellite is sent to the moon, its path is in the form of a figure '8' that encompasses Earth & the Moon. This should remind us of why space agencies (like NASA, ISRO, JAXA) implement such orbits when sending their ships off into outer space.

Scientists have discovered that this 'design' or path requires much less energy than an elliptical orbit. First of all, it goes without saying that a perfect ellipse is one of the options for getting to our nearest celestial neighbor. But if there is any inaccuracy in trajectory calculation, however slight it may be (a consequence of an inaccurate understanding of physics at that time), then the ship would either run into Earth or miss Moon point-blank.

If the ship's path resembles a figure eight then it is because at some point the gravitational pulls from Earth & the Moon are in direct competition against each other. The ship will change directions by turning into one of these forces and moving along their lines of force until another force takes hold and causes the ship to turn in another direction.

As long as the gravitational pull on one end balances out with that of whichever planet the spaceship is orbiting, then it can maintain a safe trajectory while saving fuel and hence the cost!

Article by: Abhinav Tanksale, on 14 February 2022, at 08:58 am Los Angeles time

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