In the future, would it be possible to cross a planets orbit to reach it quicker?

Richard Badger

Planning spacecraft flight paths takes a lot of refinement. Due to the expense of spaceflight, the trick is to find the most efficient flight path. This reduces the fuel needed and therefore the cost to launch the mission.

We know the shortest and quickest way from one point to another is a straight line. Sadly, this process breaks down in space. This is because the two points are often moving and the transfer vehicle already has a motion based on the orbital speed of the planet or object it leaves from. To counter this, when planning orbital manoeuvres we exploit any existing motion to reduce fuel needs. A key example of this is that spacecraft often take off towards the east because the rotation of the Earth adds up to 1,675 kilometres per hour (1,041 miles per hour) in velocity. By exploiting this motion, a rocket leaving Earth will begin a looping motion away from the planet. This course will then be altered by the on-board rockets in such a way that the path of the spacecraft will join up with the orbit of its target. Launches are usually timed so that the spacecraft will arrive in the object’s orbit, just as the object gets there.

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