Imagine that you’re falling out of an airplane. In that case, you have to achieve a safe landing despite you being free-falling (you want to carry a parachute in these circumstances). So, what are the methods? Let’s find out.
What Causes the Destruction when an Object Falls on the Ground?
It seems counter-intuitive, but the thing that destroys an object that falls from the sky is not the sheer speed that the object is going in the final seconds of the descent. It’s the high g-force experienced when the object lands and decelerates quickly.
Therefore, there are two approaches: Slowing down the object’s descent and absorbing the impact when the payload is landing. However, to make a practical list, let’s list the exact methods involved in the process.
- Slowing Down
- Absorbing the Impact
- Landing on soft objects
DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A SKYDIVING GUIDE, AND SOME METHODS ARE NOT PRACTICAL METHODS USED BY SKYDIVERS TO SLOW THEIR DESCENT. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY LOSSES FROM SLOWING DESCENTS WITH NON-EFFECTIVE METHODS. YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT THOSE METHODS WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE SITUATION YOU ARE IN CAREFULLY.
To achieve a safe landing after free-falling, you have to slow down the descent. It means exerting force upward, partially canceling out the force of gravity.
The most obvious method is to use a parachute. This increases the surface area of the object to create more atmospheric drag. This is what skydivers use to break their fall, and landings from space to planets or moons with an atmosphere often contain this critical element.
Another method is to use propulsion, which uses Newton’s third law to push you upward. Retro-rockets and jetpacks will do the job. Although this might seem immensely heavy for a skydiver, this is used on lunar and Mars landings, where there is not enough air to only use parachutes.
Another method to slow down descents is to use lift. That means installing wings or rotors to the object. NASA’s Dragonfly spacecraft will use lift from Titan’s atmosphere after backshell separation.
Last but not least, we can use buoyancy to do the job. While gravity is still pushing the object, the object is less dense than air when the balloons are deployed to float and create an upward force. However, this is also the most challenging way to land more slowly. The balloon’s density must be precisely calculated, and it might have to jettison at some point and need to use other methods to land the payload safely.
Absorbing the Impact
If we don’t have methods to slow down sufficiently, try to let something absorb the impact upon touchdown. That way, you decelerate slower, and there is less crushing force acting on you, causing you to sustain less injury. Remember that it’s the deceleration that destroys the object when the item lands at high speeds.
Moreover, landing legs can help do the same thing, too. This protects the payload that’s above it. It’s pointless to land on your head on hard ground, regardless of how fast your vertical speed is during landing.
In this article, we talked about how to achieve a safe landing after free-falling. We discussed some techniques, solutions, and the reasons why these work. If you have more ways to make falling from heights even more survivable (for any type of payload), let us know in the comments.