An important astronautical technique whereby a → spacecraft takes up a tiny fraction of the → orbital energy of a planet it is flying by, allowing it to change → trajectory and → speed. Since the planet is not at rest but gravitating around the Sun, the spacecraft uses both the orbital energy and the gravitational pull of the planet. Also known as the slingshot effect or → gravitational slingshot. More specifically, as the spacecraft approaches the planet, it is accelerated by the planet's gravity. If the spacecraft's velocity is too low, or if it is heading too close to the planet, then the planet's → gravitational force will pull it down to the planet. But if its speed is large enough, and its orbit does not bring it too close to the planet, then the gravitational attraction will just bend the spacecraft's trajectory around, and the accelerated spacecraft will pass rapidly by the planet and start to move away. In the absence of other gravitational forces, the planet's gravity would start to slow down the spacecraft as it moves away. If the planet were stationary, the slow-down effect would be equal to the initial acceleration, so there would be no net gain in speed. But the planets are themselves moving through space at high speeds, and this is what gives the "slingshot" effect. Provided the spacecraft is traveling through space in the same direction as the planet, the spacecraft will emerge from the gravity assist maneuver moving faster than before.
→ gravity; assist, from M.Fr. assister "to stand by, help, assist," from L. assistere "assist, stand by," from → ad- "to" + sistere "to cause to stand," from PIE *siste-, from *sta- "to stand" (cognate with Pers. istâdan "to stand").
Yâri "assistance, help; friendship," from yâr "assistant, helper, friend," from Mid.Pers. hayyâr "helper," hayyârêh "help, aid, assistance," Proto-Iranian *adyāva-bara-, cf. Av. aidū- "helpful, useful."