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Investigate the factors affecting the rate of descent of a parachute.

Extracts from this document...


Natasha Lever 10L

Physics Coursework


Aim: Investigate the factors affecting the rate of descent of a parachute.        


There are various factors that affect the rate of descent of a parachute e.g. the weather at the time of descent, the height from which the parachute begins its descent, the type of material. The focus of this investigation is on two factors, which are known to affect the rate of descent of a parachute;

  • The surface area of the parachute.
  • The mass of the parachute, including its parachutist.

Theoretical background

The rationale for this investigation derives from Newton’s second law of motion,

F= ma where F represents force, m represents mass and a represents acceleration.

Without the influence of air resistance, all objects accelerate at the same rate 10m/s²[1]∗.  This is because the force of an object depends on its mass. For example, if we take a rock with a mass of 10kg and one with a mass of 1kg we find that they land at the same time. The force of a falling object when there is no air resistance is 10 x m so in this case the force of the 10kg rock is 100N (Newtons) and the force of the 1kg rock is 10N. If we put these figures into the equation for acceleration, a  = F

...read more.


Surface area of parachute (cm)

Time taken to descend.  (s)

Height dropped from (m)

Average speed (m/s)






The preliminary experiment provided some useful results, which will help me to use better measurements in the main experiment. The measurements of area in the first worked well. The material used in the preliminary experiment was too rigid and did not travel smoothly through the air. For my main experiment I have decided to use bin bags which flow through the air more easily. The mass was appropriate for the size of the parachute. All other factors seemed to work well within the experiment. The main experiment will consist of 6 examples rather than three to produce a better range of results. The range of values are very important when doing an experiment i.e. they should not be too big or too small. I feel that range of numbers I have chosen work very well after having done the preliminary experiment and seeing them in action.


Safety is always an important feature when it comes to executing an experiment even more so when objects are being dropped from a high height. To ensure the highest level of the safety the following issues need to be taken into account;

  • No one should be underneath where the object is being dropped
  • Care must be taken when standing on chairs
  • Running can cause serious accidents.
  • Do not leave scissors around as they are sharp and can hurt people
  • No rubbish should be left on the floor to prevent people tripping up.


Tables of results

How the surface area affects the rate of descent

Surface area of Parachute (cm²)

Mass of parachute (g)

Time (s)

Height (m)

Average Speed ( m/s²)































...read more.


  • Use even more measurements, as this will provide more results.
  • Do each measurement five times instead of three to get a more accurate measurement.
  • Make the structure of the parachute better and not so messy.
  • Drop the parachutes from a higher height to get a bigger measurement as this will mean that the reaction time of the person dropping the parachute will make a smaller difference. Use a bigger difference of measurements.
  • Take more care to find a material, which flows through the air well.
  • Use the stopwatch as accurately as possible.
  • Do more examples in the preliminary experiment.

Whilst doing the experiment I tried to do as many things to ensure an accurate result but the problem was time. I felt it was rushed so I did not have as much time as I would have liked. The results did seem to be accurate and were constant which shows that the investigation was not too inaccurate and worked well.

[1] metres per second squared

...read more.

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