Earth’s rotation and Space shuttle launches

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Last week we were talking about wind patterns and how they affect flight time. But it is also worth mentioning that Space shuttles are launched almost at all times from West to East to take advantage of the earth’s rotation


How does earth’s rotation affect shuttles ?

Earth is a spherical body rotating with some angular velocity. And as a result of this, the equator is rotating at a higher velocity than the poles. By launching a space shuttle from the equator you are getting a ‘speed boost’.  

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This means that if a shuttle is launched from the pole, it has to accelerate from 0 to 17000mph to reach orbital velocity.

But if a shuttle is launched from the equator, it only needs to accelerate from 1025 to 17000mph. (that 1025mph initial velocity is given by the earth free of charge)

This saves valuable amount of fuel required for propulsion

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Polar Orbits

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Not all rockets are launched from the west to east and the direction is determined by the purpose of its payload.

The satellites that are used for mapping for instance follow a Polar Orbit i.e they move from north to south or vice versa and therefore during launch they cannot take advantage of the earth’s rotation.

Florida or California

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Another characteristic of launching satellites is that the launching
stations are generally located near the coast just in
case of failure of the launch, the satellite falls in an uninhabited area.

NASA primarily uses Kennedy Space Center, Florida for east-west launches and Vandenberg Base California for polar orbits for the very same reason. ***

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Rocket science is just truly breathtaking.

* How fast are YOU spinning on Earth’s axis right now?

** Also check out about Retrograde motion

*** This statement holds true for most launches.