Orbital Golf Drives

As will become clear from this post, I know little about terrestrial golf and even less about the astronomical version of the game.

Two days ago outside the ISS a Russian astronaut teed up a golf ball and drove it into orbit.

From here we have:

and from there we have:

I question Tyurin’s club selection for this drive. It’s probable that his caddie was to blame but never mind about that. I would have thought that a No. 1 wood or a No. 1 driving iron, rather than a spade mashie, was a better choice for distance off the tee but then what do I know. If Tyurin had seen a video of Alan Shephard’s poor shot on the Moon in 1971 surely he would have left the 6-iron in the bag and gone for a heavier club.

Am I correct in my assessment of Tyurin’s club selection? Would he have achieved a distance of greater than 1.2 million miles if he had used a wood or a driving iron?

Furthermore, does anyone know whether the shot was a draw or a fade, and would that have made any difference?

Many thanks.

How can you have a draw or a fade without an atmosphere?

I told you I didn’t know anything about golf.

So why the gold plating on the golf club head? Is this just to add to the publicity, or is there a practical/scientific reason for it?

I am certain that the type of club used would have made no difference, given that he was not attempting to hit the ball with a full swing, but instead simply gave it a love tap.

I suspect that the difference in initial velocity of the ball between being hit by a shorter or longer club (longer club equals longer arc equals faster clubhead speed) would be deminimus in determining how long the ball was able to maintain its orbit around the earth.

What?!? He didn’t even use a real golf ball? And I thought the shot was legitimate…

A lot of people say that, but the approach to that hole from outer space is very difficult, what with the dog-leg. The 6-iron sounds about right. Heavier clubs need more fuel to get them up there, remember.

The choice of club was probably motivated by weight, more than performance. I’m guessing that a big, bulky wood would weigh more than a skinny little iron, and in space, mass is money. And the distance of his drive is misleading, too: Most of the ball’s speed didn’t come from the club, but in fact was the speed it already had by virtue of being in orbit in the first place. In fact, given that the ball is predicted to re-enter in a few days, it’s probable that his shot actually decreased the speed of the ball: By slowing down its orbital speed, he caused it to swing lower in its orbit, and thus feel more atmospheric drag than the space station.

If range had been the sole motivation, he could have driven it forward, giving it a greater speed, and a very long time indeed before re-entry, but that would have made it space junk, which is already a bad enough problem in low Earth orbit without deliberately contributing to it. Objects in orbit, even going generally the same direction around the Earth, can have relative speeds of over 11,000 m/s (over 16,000 mph), and even a fleck of paint can cause serious damage, if it collides with a spacecraft at those speeds.

For reference, here’s one of my favorite Staff Reports I’ve written.

I’m impressed, Chronos.

But surely this from Larry Niven

is an orbital (or circular) argument.