Pluto as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft during its 2015 flyby. Image: NASA
NASA has funded Southwest Research Institute to study the important attributes, feasibility and cost of a possible future Pluto orbiter mission. This study will develop the spacecraft and payload design requirements and make preliminary cost and risk assessments for new technologies.
The study is one of 10 different mission studies that NASA is sponsoring to prepare for the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey. The results of these studies will be delivered to the National Academy Planetary Decadal Study that will begin in 2020.
The SwRI-led New Horizons mission — which flew past Pluto and its system of moons and then Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69, the farthest, most primordial object visited to date — has returned data that has made a compelling case for a follow-up mission.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to inform the decadal survey deliberations with this study,” said SwRI’s Dr. Carly Howett, who is leading the effort. “Our mission concept is to send a single spacecraft to orbit Pluto for two Earth years before breaking away to visit at least one KBO and one other KBO dwarf planet.”
Despite all ...