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Future Tech: Pluto hopper

23 Aug 2018, 14:41 UTC
Future Tech: Pluto hopper Adrian Mann

Planetary exploration missions are always a trade off of technology and cost. The very first ones just flew past or crashed into their targets, then came stationary soft landers and an increase in the use of wheeled rovers. If you’re visiting a planet you want to explore as much of it as possible but, as the Google Lunar XPrize has demonstrated, it remains prohibitively expensive and challenging to place something on the Moon, let alone on a distant planet. The problem becomes more pronounced the further away the target is, and each destination has its own challenges: Venus has a thick atmosphere but a toxic environment, Mars has lower gravity but hardly any atmosphere to aid braking. Pluto is perhaps the ultimate challenge, being so distant the trip requires the most energy of any in the Solar System. It took New Horizons, one of the fastest-ever space probes, over nine years just to get there just to fly past. However, Pluto has an advantageous combination of atmospherics and gravity that a team from the Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC) are hoping to exploit to open up Pluto for exploration.

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