A projectile is any object that has been thrown, shot, or launched, and ballistics is the study of projectile motion. Examples of projectiles range from a golf ball in flight, to a curve ball thrown by a baseball pitcher to a rocket fired into space. The flight paths of all projectiles are affected by two factors: gravity and, on Earth at least, air resistance.
The effects of air resistance on the behavior of projectiles can be quite complex. Because effects due to gravity are much simpler and easier to analyze, and since gravity applies in more situations, we will discuss its role in projectile motion first. In most instances on Earth, of course, a projectile will be subject to both forces, but there may be specific cases in which an artificial vacuum has been created, which means it will only be subjected to the force of gravity. Furthermore, in outer space, gravity—whether from Earth or another body—is likely to be a factor, whereas air resistance (unless or until astronomers find another planet with air) will not be.
The acceleration due to gravity is 32 ft (9.8 m)/sec 2 , usually expressed as "per second squared." This means that as every second passes, the speed of a falling object is increasing by 32 ft/sec (9.8 m). Where there is no air resistance, a ball will drop at a velocity of 32 feet per second after one second, 64 ft (19.5 m) per second after two seconds, 96 ft (29.4 m) per second after three seconds, and so on. When an object experiences the ordinary acceleration due to gravity, this figure is rendered in shorthand as g. Actually, the figure of 32 ft (9.8 m) per second squared applies at sea level, but since the value of g changes little with altitude—it only decreases by 5% at a height of 10 mi (16 km)—it is safe to use this number.
When a plane goes into a high-speed turn, it experiences much higher apparent g. This can be as high as 9 g, which is almost more than the human body can endure. Incidentally, people call these " g -forces," but in fact g is not a measure of force but of a single component, acceleration. On the other hand, since force is the product of mass multiplied by acceleration, and since an aircraft subject to a high g factor clearly experiences a heavy increase in net force, in that sense, the expression " g -force" is not altogether inaccurate.
In a vacuum, where air resistance plays no part, the effects of g are clearly demonstrated. Hence a cannonball and a feather, dropped into a vacuum at the same moment, would fall at exactly the same rate and hit bottom at the same time.