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Time and time again I've watched people patch conics by using straight addition and ignoring the Oberth benefit. It is a very easy mistake to make. I'll give an example of this error for an earth to Mars delta V budget.
But before we go from one heliocentric orbit to another, we need to escape the planet's gravity well. Earth's surface escape velocity is about 11 km/s. Mars' surface escape velocity is about 5 km/s.
The novice will look at these 4 quantities and simply add them. 11 + 3 + 2.5 + 5 is 20.5. They'll tell you it takes about 20.5 km/s to get from earth's surface to Mars surface.
But to accurately patch conics you need to use the hyperbolic orbit that takes you out of the planet's sphere of influence to a heliocentric orbit. Hyperbolic orbit speed is sqrt(Vescape2 + Vinfinity2). But what's Vinfinity? In this example it's the 3 km/s needed to go from earth's 30 km/s orbit to a Hohmann's 33 km/s. In Mars' neighborhood Vinfinity is the 2.5 km/s needed to exit Hohmann and match velocities with Mars.
If you remember high school math, sqrt( a2 + b2 ) should look familiar. It's the hypotenuse in the good old Pythagorean theorem! And that's what I use to visualize hyperbola speed:
The novice will tell once you've achieved the 11 km/s to escape earth's gravity well, you need another 3 km/s. The informed will tell you only another .4 km/s is needed.
For Mars to Earth the naive will tell you after you've reached 5 km/s to escape Mars then you need another 2.5 km/s to send the ship earthward. The savvy will tell you an additional .6 km/s is needed.
.4 vs 3 and .6 vs 2.5. In this case the novice method results in a 4.5 km/s overestimation of the delta V budget.
Erik Max Francis
I used to call this the Erik Max Francis Error. Delta V budgets from one planet to another would often come up in space usenet groups. Erik would use his Python BOTEC and give an answer to ten decimal places. People would ooooh and ahhhhh. Wow! Accurate to 10 significant figures! In reality Erik's answers were accurate to zero significant figures. I finally prodded him to correct his error. Now his BOTEC is accurate to 1 or 2 significant figures. So far as I know, he still gives answers to 10 decimal places.
Later I called it the Rune error. The total Vinf can be roughly estimated by subtracting Mars 24 km/s from earth's 30 km/s. And this is what Rune uses on the New Mars forum when Louis asks how much delta V is needed after you get out of earth's gravity well.
Brute force" trajectories would take about as much delta-v as is the difference between the orbital speeds of mars and earth, so about 29.8km/s (for earth) - 24km/s (for mars) = 5.8km/sI have explained to the New Mars Forums many times that the speed of a hyperbola is sqrt(Vescape2 + Vinfinity2). Will Rune ever learn it? I doubt it.
But no matter, Rune's a member of Zubrin's cult. People expect Zubrinistas to be innumerate, nobody takes them seriously. But sadly they are loud and high profile. John Q Public can be misled into thinking they speak for all space advocates.
It's more damaging when someone in authority commits this error. Now I'm talking about Dr. Tom Murphy.
Professor Tom Murphy
This is from a graphic from Tom Murphy's Stranded Resources:
For instance, we travel around the Sun at a velocity of 30 km/s, while Mars sails at a more sedate 24 km/s. So to meet up with Mars, we have 6 km/s of extra velocity to burn, helping us up the hill. We speak of this as a Δv (delta-vee) adjustment to trajectory.Same method as Rune for getting the total Vinf: Subtracting Mars' 24 km/s from earth's 30 km/s to get 6 km/s. An over estimation but not wildly inaccurate. And Murphy correctly shows earth's escape as 11 km/s and Mars escape as about 5 km/s.
But then Murphy straight up adds 11+6+5:
Crudely speaking, we must have the means to accomplish all vertical traverses in order to make a trip. For instance, landing on Mars from Earth requires about 17 km/s of climb, followed by a controlled 5 km/s of deceleration for the descent. Thus it takes something like 20 km/s of capability to land on MarsSounds like he's being generous to the poor deluded space cadets by rounding 22 down to 20. But the distance from earth's C3=0 to Mars C3=0 is not 6 km/s. It's about 1 km/s. Here's Murphy graph corrected for the Oberth benefit:
"But wait!" a Murphy apologist might say. "Murphy didn't include the delta V needed to rise above earth's atmosphere. That's 1.5 to 2 km/s! That makes the budget more like 18 which can be rounded up to 20."
An atmosphere does indeed add to delta V for departing a planet. On the other hand, an atmosphere is a big help for planet arrival. Park in a capture orbit with periapsis velocity just a hair under escape. Position the periapsis in the planet's upper atmosphere. Each orbit at periapsis, atmospheric friction slows the ship. This is known as aerobraking. Almost all of Mars' 5 km/s descent can dealt with via aerobraking. Here is Murphy's graph corrected for atmospheric influence:
Now it takes 13 or 14 km's to reach escape. But with descent taken care of with aerobraking it only takes another 1 km/s to reach Mars' surface. A more realistic delta V budget from earth surface to Mars surface is about 14 or 15 km/s.
And in fact numerous Mars landers and orbiters have used this method. I am stunned that Murphy, a self proclaimed space insider, has never heard of aerobraking.
Is a 6 km/s error a big deal? Since the exponent of the rocket equation scales with delta V, it's a very big deal. Murphy himself would tell you exponential growth can be dramatic.
Above graph assumes hydrogen/oxygen bipropellent. Each 3 km/s added to the delta V budget about doubles propellent needed. Each 5 km/s added nearly triples the amount. Murphy's 20 km/s delta V budget would need a little more than triple the propellent of the actual 15 km/s delta V budget.
In my opinion the limits to growth is the most important issue facing us. Can space resources raise the ceiling on our logistic growth? If so, it is worthwhile to invest in building space infra-structure. If not, expensive space infrastructure is a waste of money. We should look at the question seriously. That is why I get bent out of shape when a so-called authority makes common mistakes that would embarrass a freshman aerospace student.
Tom Murphy's arguments against space are often cited in discussions of limits to growth. When I find such a discussion, I will chime in that a bright high school student could tear apart Murphy's arguments. The most recent visit was at Mike Stasse's Damn The Matrix. As usual, the Do The Math crowd response was insults, appeal to authority, but no math.