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## Summary

In astrodynamics, the characteristic energy ($C_{3}$ ) is a measure of the excess specific energy over that required to just barely escape from a massive body. The units are length2time−2, i.e. velocity squared, or energy per mass.

Every object in a 2-body ballistic trajectory has a constant specific orbital energy $\epsilon$ equal to the sum of its specific kinetic and specific potential energy:

$\epsilon ={\frac {1}{2}}v^{2}-{\frac {\mu }{r}}={\text{constant}}={\frac {1}{2}}C_{3},$ where $\mu =GM$ is the standard gravitational parameter of the massive body with mass $M$ , and $r$ is the radial distance from its center. As an object in an escape trajectory moves outward, its kinetic energy decreases as its potential energy (which is always negative) increases, maintaining a constant sum.

Note that C3 is twice the specific orbital energy $\epsilon$ of the escaping object.

## Non-escape trajectory

A spacecraft with insufficient energy to escape will remain in a closed orbit (unless it intersects the central body), with

$C_{3}=-{\frac {\mu }{a}}<0$ where

$\mu =GM$ is the standard gravitational parameter,
$a$ is the semi-major axis of the orbit's ellipse.

If the orbit is circular, of radius r, then

$C_{3}=-{\frac {\mu }{r}}$ ## Parabolic trajectory

A spacecraft leaving the central body on a parabolic trajectory has exactly the energy needed to escape and no more:

$C_{3}=0$ ## Hyperbolic trajectory

A spacecraft that is leaving the central body on a hyperbolic trajectory has more than enough energy to escape:

$C_{3}={\frac {\mu }{|a|}}>0$ where

$\mu =GM$ is the standard gravitational parameter,
$a$ is the semi-major axis of the orbit's hyperbola (which may be negative in some convention).

Also,

$C_{3}=v_{\infty }^{2}$ where $v_{\infty }$ is the asymptotic velocity at infinite distance. Spacecraft's velocity approaches $v_{\infty }$ as it is further away from the central object's gravity.

## Examples

MAVEN, a Mars-bound spacecraft, was launched into a trajectory with a characteristic energy of 12.2 km2/s2 with respect to the Earth. When simplified to a two-body problem, this would mean the MAVEN escaped Earth on a hyperbolic trajectory slowly decreasing its speed towards ${\sqrt {12.2}}{\text{ km/s}}=3.5{\text{ km/s}}$ . However, since the Sun's gravitational field is much stronger than Earth's, the two-body solution is insufficient. The characteristic energy with respect to Sun was negative, and MAVEN – instead of heading to infinity – entered an elliptical orbit around the Sun. But the maximal velocity on the new orbit could be approximated to 33.5 km/s by assuming that it reached practical "infinity" at 3.5 km/s and that such Earth-bound "infinity" also moves with Earth's orbital velocity of about 30 km/s.

The InSight mission to Mars launched with a C3 of 8.19 km2/s2. The Parker Solar Probe (via Venus) plans a maximum C3 of 154 km2/s2.

C3 (km2/s2) from earth to get to various planets : Mars 12, Jupiter 80, Saturn or Uranus 147. To Pluto (with its orbital inclination) needs about 160–164 km2/s2.