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Find out how a variable affects the terminal velocity of a parachute.

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Parachute Investigation


The aim of this investigation is to find out how a variable affects the terminal velocity of a parachute, and how it alters the speed that the parachute falls.


When an object falls in air, the air resistance opposing its motion increases as its speed rises, thus reducing its acceleration. Eventually, the air resistance acting upwards equals the weight of the object acting downwards. The resultant force on the object is therefore zero, since the two opposing forces are balanced. This is called terminal velocity.


Let us assume that the “explosion” image is the parachute. I will try to explain what happens as the parachute is released from a height.

  1. The parachute is released. The initial velocity is zero.
  2. The parachute starts to fall. The air resistance is small as the speed is small. The gravity remains the same.
  3. The parachute starts to speed up, thus increasing the air resistance. However, the gravity is still larger than the air resistance and the parachute continues to accelerate down.
  4. The parachute has accelerated to an optimum point where the air resistance
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Evaluation for Trial Investigation

This trial investigation has shown me that there are problems with my experiment. Firstly, the difference of 1g in mass does not affect the velocity greatly, and I have decided to increase the mass in 5g each. I have also decided to do 8 different masses. And instead of weighing 8 different weights, I shall weigh eight 5g plasticine and simply add on to the weights after each mass range.

Another I am going to change is the number of attempts I am going to do. I am going to do my experiment 3 times instead of 2 as it would be easier to find any significant/outstanding errors in the results.

The shape of my object, a cube shape is not ideal as moulding one is hard and can be inaccurate. I have decided to mould the objects into ball-shaped ones.

To make it easier for me to calculate the velocity of the parachute, I have chosen to change the height at which the parachute is released to 2m.

The holes in my parachute tore after a few tries as it were not reinforced, and the weight was tugging on it.

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I did this experiment in a corridor, which was slightly windy, and the parachute could have dropped to the ground diagonally, and not 2 metres straight down.

I think this experiment was fairly accurate, as it fits my prediction. However, it could have been improved more if:

  • The parachute was dropped at a greater distance
  • This experiment took place in a windless environment, such as the gymnasium
  • Use a computer to time how long it the parachute takes to land

There were enough readings for me to make a firm conclusion and my readings were fairly accurate. However, it could be made sure to be more accurate with more results and at a greater height.

To improve my experiment, I would like to try investigating how the surface area of the parachute would affect the terminal velocity of the parachute. I predict that as the surface area increases, the time it would take for the parachute to reach the ground would also increase. This would happen as it will have more air resistance and it would collide with more air particles, and therefore take a longer time to reach terminal velocity.

Parachute Investigation

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