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Game-Changer: A Pluto Orbiter and Beyond

25 Oct 2018, 14:45 UTC
Game-Changer: A Pluto Orbiter and Beyond NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, has been leading an SwRI study examining just how we might operate an orbiter at Pluto/Charon, with results that are surprising and encouraging for the future of such a project.

Working with spaceflight engineer and mission designer Mark Tapley and planetary scientist Amanda Zangari, as well as project manager John Scherrer and software lead Tiffany Finley, Stern has been looking at an orbital tour of Pluto built around a series of gravity assist maneuvers involving Charon, its large moon. The mission would use the kind of electric propulsion system we saw in the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres, and by clever use of gravity assists, would pull off another Dawn feat by leaving Pluto once its orbital operations were concluded and moving into the Kuiper Belt for encounters with further objects.

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