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Artificial Gravity Equations

by Ron Kurtus (16 December 2014)

Artificial gravity can be established in a spacecraft by employing linear acceleration or using centrifugal force, where the whole spacecraft or parts of it can be continually rotated, creating the effect of gravity, depending on the rate of rotation.

Simple equations are used to calculate the requirements to simulate gravity.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion



Linear acceleration relationship

When a spaceship accelerates, the crew can feel a force pressing on them that simulates the force of gravity. That force is the resistance to overcoming inertia and is shown by the equation:

Fa = ma

where

For an object or person close to Earth, the force of gravity is:

Fg = mg

where

At some acceleration, the force pushing on the astronaut equals the force from gravity:

Fa = Fg

ma = mg

Thus

a = g

In otehre words, when the linear acceleration of the spaceship is 9.8 m/s2, the astronaut will feel a force similar to that of gravity.

Centrifugal force relationship

Unfortunately, linear acceleration has its limits. It is better to provide the acceleration through circular motion at a constant rate. In other words, you can use centrifugal force to simulate gravity.

A better way to create this artificial gravity than constant acceleration is to use centrifugal force. This outward force is caused by an object being made to follow a curved path instead of a straight line, as dictated by the Law of Inertia.

(See Centrifugal Force Caused by Inertia for more information.)

Centrifugal force equation

When you swing an object around you that is tied to a string, the outward force is equal to:

F = mv2/r

where

Note: 1 N = 1 kg-m/s2

Angular velocity equation

A better way to write the force equation is to use angular velocity, which will then lead to revolutions per minute.

ω = v/r

where

Note: A radian is the distance along a curve divided by the radius

Also:

v = ωr

Substituting for v in F = mv2/r, you get the equation of the centrifugal force as a function of the mass, angular velocity, and radius:

F = mω2r

Centrifugal force and artificial gravity

Since the centrifugal force is F = mω2r and the force due to gravity is F = mg, you can combine the two equations to get the relationship between the radius, rate of rotation, and g:

mg = mω2r

g = ω2r

Solving for ω:

ω = √(g/r)

Also, solving for r:

r = g/ω2

Convert radians per second to rpm

The units for ω are inconvenient for defining the rate of rotation of the space station. Instead of radians per second, it would be better to state the units as revolutions per minute (rpm). Conversion factors are:

1 radian = 1/2π of a full circle (π is "pi", which is equal to about 3.14)

ω radians per second is ω/2π is revolutions per second

ω/2π revolutions per second is 60ω/2π revolutions per minute

60ω/2π = 9.55ω rpm

Let Ω (capital Greek letter omega) be the rate of rotation in rpm.

Ω = 9.55ω rpm

Thus:

Ω = 9.55√(g/r)

and

r = 91.2g/Ω2

Applications

You can use these equations to determine the size of the space station and the rate of rotation needed to simulate artifical gravity.

Rate of rotation example

Suppose the space station had a radius of r = 128 ft. How fast would it have to turn to create an acceleration due to gravity of g = 32 ft/s2?

Ω = 9.55√(g/r)

Ω = 9.55√(32/128) rpm

Ω = 9.55√(1/4) rpm

Ω = 9.55/2 rpm

Ω = 4.775 rpm

Radius example

If you wanted the space station to rotate at only 2 rpm, how many meters must the radius be to simulate gravity?

r = 91.2g/Ω2

r = (91.2)(9.8)/(22) meters

r = 233.44 m

Summary

Artificial gravity can be established in a spacecraft by employing linear acceleration or using centrifugal force, where the whole spacecraft or parts of it can be continually rotated. The rate or rotation necessary to duplicate the Earth's gravity depends on the radius of the circle.

Simple equations are used to calculate the requirements to simulate gravity.


Be methodical in your methods


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Artificial gravity - Wikipedia

Simulating Gravity in Space - From Batesville, Indiana HS Physics class

Artificial Gravity and the Architecture of Orbital Habitats - Theodore W. Hall - Space Future; detailed technical paper

Artificial Gravity - Technical resources from Theodore W. Hall -

The Physics of Artificial Gravity - Popular Science magazine

Simulated Gravity with Centripetal Force - Oswego City School District Exam Prep Center, New York

Gravity Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Simple Gravity Science

Top-rated books on Advanced Gravity Physics


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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