In astrodynamics, the **characteristic energy** () is a measure of the excess specific energy over that required to just barely escape from a massive body. The units are length ^{2} time ^{−2}, i.e. velocity squared, or energy per mass.

- Non-escape trajectory
- Parabolic trajectory
- Hyperbolic trajectory
- Examples
- See also
- References
- Footnotes

Every object in a 2-body ballistic trajectory has a constant specific orbital energy equal to the sum of its specific kinetic and specific potential energy:

where is the standard gravitational parameter of the massive body with mass , and is the radial distance from its center. As an object in an escape trajectory moves outward, its kinetic energy decreases as its potential energy (which is always negative) increases, maintaining a constant sum.

Note that *C*_{3} is *twice* the specific orbital energy of the escaping object.

A spacecraft with insufficient energy to escape will remain in a closed orbit (unless it intersects the central body), with

where

- is the standard gravitational parameter,
- is the semi-major axis of the orbit's ellipse.

If the orbit is circular, of radius *r*, then

A spacecraft leaving the central body on a parabolic trajectory has exactly the energy needed to escape and no more:

A spacecraft that is leaving the central body on a hyperbolic trajectory has more than enough energy to escape:

where

- is the standard gravitational parameter,
- is the semi-major axis of the orbit's hyperbola (which may be negative in some convention).

Also,

where is the asymptotic velocity at infinite distance. Spacecraft's velocity approaches as it is further away from the central object's gravity.

MAVEN, a Mars-bound spacecraft, was launched into a trajectory with a characteristic energy of 12.2 km^{2}/s^{2} with respect to the Earth.^{ [1] } When simplified to a two-body problem, this would mean the MAVEN escaped Earth on a hyperbolic trajectory slowly decreasing its speed towards . However, since the Sun's gravitational field is much stronger than Earth's, the two-body solution is insufficient. The characteristic energy with respect to Sun was negative, and MAVEN – instead of heading to infinity – entered an elliptical orbit around the Sun. But the maximal velocity on the new orbit could be approximated to 33.5 km/s by assuming that it reached practical "infinity" at 3.5 km/s and that such Earth-bound "infinity" also moves with Earth's orbital velocity of about 30 km/s.

The InSight mission to Mars launched with a C_{3} of 8.19 km^{2}/s^{2}.^{ [2] } The Parker Solar Probe (via Venus) plans a maximum C_{3} of 154 km^{2}/s^{2}.^{ [3] }

C_{3} (km^{2}/s^{2}) to get from Earth to various planets: Mars 12, Jupiter 80, Saturn or Uranus 147.^{ [4] } To Pluto (with its orbital inclination) needs about 160–164 km^{2}/s^{2}.^{ [5] }

In celestial mechanics, an **orbit** is the curved trajectory of an object such as the trajectory of a planet around a star, or of a natural satellite around a planet, or of an artificial satellite around an object or position in space such as a planet, moon, asteroid, or Lagrange point. In an atom, electrons follow similar curved paths, or orbits, around a nucleus. Normally, orbit refers to a regularly repeating trajectory, although it may also refer to a non-repeating trajectory. To a close approximation, planets and satellites follow elliptic orbits, with the center of mass being orbited at a focal point of the ellipse, as described by Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

In celestial mechanics, **escape velocity** or **escape speed** is the minimum speed needed for a free, non-propelled object to escape from the gravitational influence of a primary body, thus reaching an infinite distance from it. It is typically stated as an ideal speed, ignoring atmospheric friction. Although the term "escape velocity" is common, it is more accurately described as a speed than a velocity because it is independent of direction; the escape speed increases with the mass of the primary body and decreases with the distance from the primary body. The escape speed thus depends on how far the object has already traveled, and its calculation at a given distance takes into account the fact that without new acceleration it will slow down as it travels—due to the massive body's gravity—but it will never quite slow to a stop.

In orbital mechanics, the **Hohmann transfer orbit** is an elliptical orbit used to transfer between two circular orbits of different radii around a central body in the same plane. The Hohmann transfer often uses the lowest possible amount of propellant in traveling between these orbits, but bi-elliptic transfers can use less in some cases.

**Orbital mechanics** or **astrodynamics** is the application of ballistics and celestial mechanics to the practical problems concerning the motion of rockets and other spacecraft. The motion of these objects is usually calculated from Newton's laws of motion and law of universal gravitation. Orbital mechanics is a core discipline within space-mission design and control.

In gravitationally bound systems, the **orbital speed** of an astronomical body or object is the speed at which it orbits around either the barycenter or, if one object is much more massive than the other bodies in the system, its speed relative to the center of mass of the most massive body.

A **sub-orbital spaceflight** is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches outer space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it will not complete one orbital revolution or reach escape velocity.

In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics a **parabolic trajectory** is a Kepler orbit with the eccentricity equal to 1 and is an unbound orbit that is exactly on the border between elliptical and hyperbolic. When moving away from the source it is called an **escape orbit**, otherwise a **capture orbit**. It is also sometimes referred to as a **C _{3} = 0 orbit** (see Characteristic energy).

In celestial mechanics, the **standard gravitational parameter***μ* of a celestial body is the product of the gravitational constant *G* and the mass *M* of the body.

In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics, a **hyperbolic trajectory** is the trajectory of any object around a central body with more than enough speed to escape the central object's gravitational pull. The name derives from the fact that according to Newtonian theory such an orbit has the shape of a hyperbola. In more technical terms this can be expressed by the condition that the orbital eccentricity is greater than one.

In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics, an **elliptic orbit** or **elliptical orbit** is a Kepler orbit with an eccentricity of less than 1; this includes the special case of a circular orbit, with eccentricity equal to 0. In a stricter sense, it is a Kepler orbit with the eccentricity greater than 0 and less than 1. In a wider sense, it is a Kepler's orbit with negative energy. This includes the radial elliptic orbit, with eccentricity equal to 1.

A **circular orbit** is an orbit with a fixed distance around the barycenter; that is, in the shape of a circle.

In the gravitational two-body problem, the **specific orbital energy** of two orbiting bodies is the constant sum of their mutual potential energy and their total kinetic energy, divided by the reduced mass. According to the orbital energy conservation equation, it does not vary with time:

In astrodynamics an **orbit equation** defines the path of orbiting body around central body relative to , without specifying position as a function of time. Under standard assumptions, a body moving under the influence of a force, directed to a central body, with a magnitude inversely proportional to the square of the distance, has an orbit that is a conic section with the central body located at one of the two foci, or *the* focus.

**Spacecraft flight dynamics** is the application of mechanical dynamics to model how the external forces acting on a space vehicle or spacecraft determine its flight path. These forces are primarily of three types: propulsive force provided by the vehicle's engines; gravitational force exerted by the Earth and other celestial bodies; and aerodynamic lift and drag.

In orbital mechanics, a **porkchop plot** (also **pork-chop plot**) is a chart that shows contours of equal characteristic energy (C_{3}) against combinations of launch date and arrival date for a particular interplanetary flight.

In astronautics and aerospace engineering, the **bi-elliptic transfer** is an orbital maneuver that moves a spacecraft from one orbit to another and may, in certain situations, require less delta-v than a Hohmann transfer maneuver.

A **Mars cycler** is a kind of spacecraft trajectory that encounters Earth and Mars regularly. The term **Mars cycler** may also refer to a spacecraft on a Mars cycler trajectory. The **Aldrin cycler** is an example of a Mars cycler.

In geometry, the **major axis** of an ellipse is its longest diameter: a line segment that runs through the center and both foci, with ends at the two most widely separated points of the perimeter. The **semi-major axis** is the longest semidiameter or one half of the major axis, and thus runs from the centre, through a focus, and to the perimeter. The **semi-minor axis** of an ellipse or hyperbola is a line segment that is at right angles with the semi-major axis and has one end at the center of the conic section. For the special case of a circle, the lengths of the semi-axes are both equal to the radius of the circle.

In astrodynamics and celestial mechanics a **radial trajectory ** is a Kepler orbit with zero angular momentum. Two objects in a radial trajectory move directly towards or away from each other in a straight line.

**Specific mechanical energy** is the mechanical energy of an object per unit of mass. Similar to mechanical energy, the specific mechanical energy of an object in an isolated system subject only to conservative forces will remain constant.

- Wie, Bong (1998). "Orbital Dynamics".
*Space Vehicle Dynamics and Control*. AIAA Education Series. Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. ISBN 1-56347-261-9.

- ↑ Atlas V set to launch MAVEN on Mars mission, nasaspaceflight.com, 17 November 2013.
- ↑ ULA (2018). "InSight Launch Booklet" (PDF).
- ↑ JHUAPL. "Parker Solar Probe: The Mission".
*parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu*. Retrieved 2018-07-22. - ↑ NASA studies for Europa Clipper mission
- ↑
*New Horizons Mission Design*

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