How can spacecraft slow down after accelerating through space?

We usually catapult spacecraft through the Solar System but how do we slow them down if we need to?

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To get a spacecraft to Jupiter, you need to propel it fast enough to get it away from the Earth – so that it doesn’t fall back through the atmosphere

To get a spacecraft to Jupiter, you need to propel it fast enough to get it away from the Earth – so that it doesn’t fall back through the atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA

Asked by Martin Wilson

In general, the further a spacecraft gets from the Sun, the slower it will move – unless of course, the mission has been given enough velocity and rocket fuel to propel it to its destination. Other effects such as light pressure from the Sun, though, can speed up some rockets, as can drag from an atmosphere if they’re close to a planet.

To get a spacecraft to a planet such as Jupiter, you need to propel it fast enough in order to get it further from the Earth. If you simply shoot it into space, it will just slow down and fall back through the Earth’s atmosphere. Combined with this and the ‘drag’ mentioned above, there must be a balance in order to get the spacecraft to reach its destination.

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