What I mean by lithocapture is an orbital transfer maneuver used to reduce the velocity of a spacecraft from a hyperbolic trajectory to an elliptical orbit around the targeted celestial body where the periapsis of the hyperbolic trajectory just barely contacts the surface of the celestial body. The sliding impact would reduce orbital energy putting the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit, periapsis would then be raised above the surface by traditional means.

Is this strategy something that has ever been seriously considered by the spaceflight community? Or is it to crazy/unpredictable to ever have serious consideration? If it has been considered, are there in designs for how it would be accomplished?

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    $\begingroup$ It is potentially a great WEAPON idea :). $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2018 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ How spherical of an object are you trying to hit? Skidding into a 5m tall hill at orbital speeds would be quite the violent encounter! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 20, 2018 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose if there were a runway, a Touch-and-go landing might qualify. If the body were very low mass (like a Death Star or a cube-shaped planet or small asteroid like B-612) the orbital velocity would be slow enough that conventional wheel braking could be used. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 21, 2018 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ Got a polished ball to land on? Otherwise, splat! $\endgroup$ Feb 21, 2018 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Good point about the low mass. With an asteroid one could imagine a controlled crash because the delta-v is so small. $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2018 at 16:27


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