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Parachute Investigation

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Parachute Investigation


The aim of the experiment is to investigate how each of several different weights of varying mass attached to a parachute in turn can influence the gravitational pull and air resistance forces acting on it, consequently affecting the time it takes to reach the ground when dropped from a specific height.

Preliminary Work

Forces are measured in Newtons (N), named after Isaac Newton who invented this unit. We cannot see them but instead we can see their effects on objects, so forces are described in terms of what they do. They can cause objects to turn, change speed, direction or shape.

         The forces acting on a falling parachute are gravity and air resistance and these are the two forces which affect the speed at which the parachute falls.

Air resistance (also called drag) is when air molecules collide with an object’s leading surface. This is the opposite force to gravity, and can slow falling objects down.

The actual amount of air resistance encountered by the

object depends on a variety of factors. The two most common factors which have a direct effect upon the amount of air resistance are:

-        the speed of the object

-        the cross-sectional area of the object

Increased speeds and increased cross-sectional areas result in an increased amount of air resistance.

Gravity is what causes objects to fall downwards.

...read more.


                The weights that were used will also be used for the next experiment, as these were the ones available which weren’t too light and caused the parachute to drift and spin a lot, or too heavy and made the parachute crumple.

                Results will be recorded to 2 decimal places as this gives reasonable accuracy and allows comparison between results, but makes points relatively straightforward to plot on a graph.


When dropped, each weight will initially cause the whole parachute to accelerate, and as it gains speed it encounters an increasing amount of opposing upward air resistance force.

The parachute will continue to gain speed until the air

resistance hitting its surface increases to a large enough value to balance the downward force of gravity. At this point, the net force is 0 Newtons, and the parachute stops accelerating. Then the parachute will have reached its terminal velocity and it will continue to fall at a constant speed until intercepted by a solid object, such as the ground.

Weights which have more mass experience a greater

downward force of gravity. They will have to accelerate for a longer period of time before there is sufficient upward air resistance to balance the large downward force of gravity.

So in conclusion, the heavier weights (56.8g, 71.0g) will

fall faster than the lighter weights (14.2g, 28.4g)

...read more.


         The test might also have been made fairer by dropping the parachute at exactly the same height each time, stopping the stopwatch at the exact moment it touched the ground and ensuring that the strings stayed untangled and therefore were the same length.  I considered using a different method of attaching the weights to the parachute because the weight of the plastic container might have affected the fall, but I decided to use it as it was the simplest way and didn’t weigh very much and also counted as part of the structure of the parachute anyway.

         I could also have only accepted results for which the parachute fell straight down and didn’t spin or float diagonally, but this proved to be too time-consuming as it seemed that the parachute tended to do what it wanted most of the time.

                If I were to extend the investigation further, I could do more investigations and vary different factors such as the room temperature, the string length or parachute size, how holes in the parachute affect results, and find different ways of improving results, for instance how to control the parachute and stop it spinning or drifting to the ground at an angle, and how to prevent the parachute from crumpling or the strings becoming tangled.

...read more.

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