Slash Boxes

SoylentNews is people

Submission Preview

Link to Story

Pluto Orbiter Mission Could Use Charon Gravity Assists and Explore Elsewhere in the Kuiper Belt

Accepted submission by takyon at 2018-10-25 00:38:24

SwRI team makes breakthroughs studying Pluto orbiter mission []

A Southwest Research Institute team using internal research funds has made several discoveries that expand the range and value of a future Pluto orbiter mission. The breakthroughs define a fuel-saving orbital tour and demonstrate that an orbiter can continue exploration in the Kuiper Belt after surveying Pluto. These and other results from the study will be reported this week at a workshop on future Pluto and Kuiper Belt exploration at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Associate Vice President and planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern leads the SwRI study. The team first discovered how numerous key scientific objectives can be met using gravity assists from Pluto's giant satellite, Charon, rather than propellant, allowing the orbiter to change its orbit repeatedly to investigate various aspects of Pluto, its atmosphere, its five moons, and its solar wind interactions for up to several years. The second achievement demonstrates that, upon completing its science objectives at Pluto, the orbiter can then use Charon's gravity to escape the system without using fuel, slinging the spacecraft into the Kuiper Belt to use the same electric propulsion system it used to enter Pluto orbit to then explore other dwarf planets and smaller Kuiper Belt bodies.

"This is groundbreaking," said Stern. "Previously, NASA and the planetary science community thought the next step in Kuiper Belt exploration would be to choose between 'going deep' in the study of Pluto and its moons or 'going broad' by examining smaller Kuiper Belt objects and another dwarf planet for comparison to Pluto. The planetary science community debated which was the right next step. Our studies show you can do both in a single mission: it's a game changer."

Previously: Return to Pluto? []
A Return to Pluto and Other Solar System Targets []

Related: New Horizons Captures the Farthest Image From Earth Ever Made []
New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches 2014 MU69; OSIRIS-REx Nears 101955 Bennu []

Original Submission