Slow Rocket Reentry
Name: Lawton W.
If a spaceship (or any large object) entered the Earth's atmosphere very, very
slowly (if it could ignore the effects of gravity), then would it still heat up?
If re-entry conditions as you describe could be achieved, the entering object would not heat up
appreciably because the heat generated on re-entry is that derived from intense air friction
against the object's skin. Low re-entry speed would still create friction -- after all, the
object must push aside the air through which it passes -- however, the rate of heat build up
would be low and well within the object's capacity to discharge that heat as radiation from
If a spaceship entered slowly at night, it would not heat up. There would be no heat from the
sun and very little heat from the atmosphere. In fact, it might freeze. The upper atmosphere
is full of ice and snow (i.e. clouds).
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Update: June 2012