Escape velocity

In physics (specifically, celestial mechanics), escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for a free, non-propelled object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body, thus reaching an infinite distance from it. Escape velocity rises with the body's mass (body to be escaped from) and falls with the escaping object's distance from its center. The escape velocity 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.

A rocket, continuously accelerated by its exhaust, can escape without ever reaching escape velocity, since it continues to add kinetic energy from its engines. It can achieve escape at any speed, given sufficient propellant to provide new acceleration to the rocket to counter gravity's deceleration and thus maintain its speed.

The escape velocity from Earth's surface is about 11,186 m/s (6.951 mi/s; 40,270 km/h; 36,700 ft/s; 25,020 mph; 21,744 kn).[1] More generally, escape velocity is the speed at which the sum of an object's kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy is equal to zero;[nb 1] an object which has achieved escape velocity is neither on the surface, nor in a closed orbit (of any radius). With escape velocity in a direction pointing away from the ground of a massive body, the object will move away from the body, slowing forever and approaching, but never reaching, zero speed. Once escape velocity is achieved, no further impulse need be applied for it to continue in its escape. In other words, if given escape velocity, the object will move away from the other body, continually slowing, and will asymptotically approach zero speed as the object's distance approaches infinity, never to come back.[2] Speeds higher than escape velocity retain a positive speed at infinite distance. Note that the minimum escape velocity assumes that there is no friction (e.g., atmospheric drag), which would increase the required instantaneous velocity to escape the gravitational influence, and that there will be no future acceleration or extraneous deceleration (for example from thrust or from gravity of other bodies), which would change the required instantaneous velocity.

For a spherically symmetric, massive body such as a star, or planet, the escape velocity for that body, at a given distance, is calculated by the formula[3]

where G is the universal gravitational constant (G ≈ 6.67×10−11 m3·kg−1·s−2), M the mass of the body to be escaped from, and r the distance from the center of mass of the body to the object.[nb 2] The relationship is independent of the mass of the object escaping the massive body. Conversely, a body that falls under the force of gravitational attraction of mass M, from infinity, starting with zero velocity, will strike the massive object with a velocity equal to its escape velocity given by the same formula.

When given an initial speed greater than the escape speed the object will asymptotically approach the hyperbolic excess speed satisfying the equation:[4]

In these equations atmospheric friction (air drag) is not taken into account.