Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have been trying to understand the formula


as it relates to Fig. 2 on page 5 of this exposition:

The angles between the positive directions of $V$ and $(v_i,v_f)$ are denoted by $(\alpha,\alpha^{\prime})$, respectively. $\beta$ is the positive rotation angle of $v_i$ arrowed between the dashed lines.

I surmise that the law of cosines is at work, but I fail to see precisely how.

Can someone provide hints as to how the formula relates to Fig. 2?

(One way of answering my question is to partially/wholly derive the equation.)

share|cite|improve this question
I couldn't figure it out, the obtuse triangle made things very complex to analyze. My approach was utilizing the alpha and beta angles from the sum angle derivations for cosine and then attempting to solve for the additional side that made the angle obtuse. It seems as though he was using the standard conservation of energy formula though. What I don't understand is why he wouldn't have to use three dimensional Euler angles, as the satellite would move in the zed direction as well (via elliptical orbit). Sorry, I will keep checking this, I am curious as well. – Gödel May 22 '14 at 17:41
Minor comment to the post (v3): Please consider to mention explicitly author, title, etc. of link, so it is possible to reconstruct link in case of link rot. – Qmechanic May 22 '14 at 17:52
You could also try if need be. – Alan Rominger May 22 '14 at 18:53

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.