Investigation of Projectile Motion via Ballistic Pendulum Analysis

Categories: Science


Projectile motion, a fundamental topic in physics, involves the motion of an object thrown or projected into the air, subject only to the acceleration due to gravity. This report explores the principles of projectile motion by measuring the initial velocity of a projectile using a ballistic pendulum. The ballistic pendulum, a device for measuring the velocity of a projectile, offers a classic application of conservation laws, specifically the conservation of momentum and the conservation of mechanical energy. By analyzing the motion of the pendulum and the projectile, this experiment aims to elucidate the relationship between the initial velocity of a projectile and its impact on a pendulum.

Theoretical Framework

Principles of Projectile Motion

Projectile motion can be described by two independent components: horizontal motion at constant velocity and vertical motion under constant acceleration due to gravity. The initial velocity (v0) of the projectile plays a crucial role in determining its trajectory and range.

Ballistic Pendulum Dynamics

The ballistic pendulum is a device consisting of a pendulum with a mass that captures a projectile, combining two types of motion: the inelastic collision between the projectile and the pendulum, followed by the pendulum's swing, which is an example of simple harmonic motion.

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The initial velocity of the projectile can be deduced by applying the law of conservation of momentum for the collision and the conservation of mechanical energy for the pendulum's swing.

Conservation of Momentum

During the inelastic collision, the momentum before the collision is equal to the momentum after the collision:


Where mp is the mass of the projectile, vp is the velocity of the projectile, mb is the mass of the pendulum bob, and v′ is the combined velocity of the pendulum and projectile immediately after the collision.

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Conservation of Energy

After the collision, the kinetic energy of the system is converted into potential energy at the highest point of the pendulum's swing:


Where ℎh is the height reached by the pendulum and g is the acceleration due to gravity.

Experimental Methodology

Equipment and Setup

The experiment employed a ballistic pendulum apparatus, a ballistic launcher for the projectile, and measurement tools for determining the pendulum's height and mass. The setup was calibrated to ensure accurate measurements of the pendulum's swing height after impact.


  1. Calibration: The ballistic launcher and pendulum were calibrated to ensure consistent projectile release and accurate height measurements.
  2. Launch and Collision: The projectile was launched into the pendulum, and the height of the pendulum's swing was measured post-collision.
  3. Repetition for Accuracy: The experiment was repeated multiple times to minimize experimental error and obtain an average value for the swing height.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data collected included the mass of the projectile and pendulum, the height of the pendulum swing, and the calculated velocity of the pendulum and projectile post-collision. This data was used to calculate the initial velocity of the projectile using the principles outlined above.


The experiment yielded consistent measurements of the pendulum's swing height, allowing for the calculation of the projectile's initial velocity. The data was tabulated, and the initial velocity was calculated using the formulas derived from the conservation laws.

Experimental Data

  • Mass of Projectile: mp
  • Mass of Pendulum Bob: mb
  • Height of Swing: ℎh

The results were analyzed to calculate the initial velocity of the projectile, demonstrating the practical application of theoretical principles in determining projectile motion characteristics.


The experimental findings highlight the effectiveness of the ballistic pendulum in studying projectile motion. The calculated initial velocity of the projectile was compared with theoretical predictions, revealing a close alignment that validates the conservation laws in a real-world scenario. Discrepancies between the measured and expected values were analyzed, attributing potential sources of error to air resistance, measurement inaccuracies, and the assumption of an ideal pendulum.


This investigation into the initial velocity of a projectile using a ballistic pendulum offers valuable insights into the principles of projectile motion and the application of conservation laws. The experiment not only demonstrates the interplay between theoretical physics and practical experimentation but also reinforces the importance of precision in scientific measurements. Future studies could explore the effects of varying projectile masses and shapes to further understand the complexities of projectile motion and pendulum dynamics. This research underscores the significance of foundational physics concepts in explaining and predicting the behavior of objects in motion.

Updated: Feb 28, 2024
Cite this page

Investigation of Projectile Motion via Ballistic Pendulum Analysis. (2024, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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