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Space & Astronomy

Scientists develop new way to reach Mars

By T.K. Randall
December 26, 2014 · Comment icon 15 comments

Entering orbit around Mars has proven notoriously challenging. Image Credit: NASA
A cheaper and safer way to get to Mars will make it far easier to send missions there in the future.
Getting a spacecraft safely in to orbit around the Red Planet is currently an expensive, awkward and risky affair.

Launches typically take place within specific windows of opportunity when the orbital alignment of the Earth and Mars is favorable.

Slowing a spacecraft down when it gets there is also particularly difficult, requiring hundreds of pounds of extra fuel to help bring the probe in to orbit without careening off in to space.
Now however scientists have come up with a cheaper and more reliable way to place a spacecraft in to orbit around Mars without needing to bring along any of that extra fuel.

While the conventional method involves intercepting the current location of the planet and then rapidly slowing down to enter orbit, the new method, known as ballistic capture, entails sending the spacecraft in to a Mars-like orbit so that it actually ends up ahead of the planet's trajectory.

When Mars finally catches up to the probe it will gently snag it in to a stable orbit, avoiding the need for it to perform any violent braking maneuvers.

"That's the magic of ballistic capture - it's like flying in formation," said researcher Edward Belbruno.

Source: Scientific American | Comments (15)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 9 years ago
why not create a giant sling shot-like in the space and fire the capsule to mars to save fuel ? Where are you going to get the energy from to power the slingshot? How are you going to protect the spacecraft from the enormous g-forces that the slingshot would produce? How are you going to slow your spacecraft down when it reaches Mars? Do you want me to go on?
Comment icon #7 Posted by Peter B 9 years ago
took us how long to figure that out? not very smart are we? and we think we can understand the universe? Be fair. Belbruno's concept is unusual and seems to have required a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. In addition, the additional time the concept requires counts against it in valid ways; Belbruno initially proved his concept by demonstrating how to get to from the Earth to the Moon in 98 days. It doesn't surprise me that people would ask why you'd do that when you can get there in 3. It seems that it was only once he was able to show how to rescue satellites which had failed to reach Geosyn... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by darrensred 9 years ago
My method to get to mars would be to have a large elastic band fixed at 2 points stretch it as far as it could go and let go with a spaceship as projectile
Comment icon #9 Posted by jarjarbinks 9 years ago
Where are you going to get the energy from to power the slingshot? How are you going to protect the spacecraft from the enormous g-forces that the slingshot would produce? How are you going to slow your spacecraft down when it reaches Mars? Do you want me to go on? the spacecraft would still have fuel and it would be use to slow down when approaching Mars. If you have 3 stations , 2 going at the same direction while one going at the opposite direction in a form of triangle, they could fire the spaceship and after that, they can slow down.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 9 years ago
the spacecraft would still have fuel and it would be use to slow down when approaching Mars. If you have 3 stations , 2 going at the same direction while one going at the opposite direction in a form of triangle, they could fire the spaceship and after that, they can slow down. But then you have to power three seperate spacecrafts, instead of just one. I fail to see the benefit of this approach ?
Comment icon #11 Posted by toast 9 years ago
My method to get to mars would be to have a large elastic band fixed at 2 points stretch it as far as it could go and let go with a spaceship as projectile But yr method isn`t a method to get to Mars, even not to leave the Earth atmosphere. Do you know the meaning of 11,2km/sec?
Comment icon #12 Posted by toast 9 years ago
the spacecraft would still have fuel and it would be use to slow down when approaching Mars. No, it would not. And also for you the question: do you know the meaning of 11,2km/sec. and do you know what air friction is?
Comment icon #13 Posted by spyyder976 9 years ago
All they have to do is build space rings that hold fuel which can launch spacecraft and also refuel them, like on Star Wars. It's easily done!
Comment icon #14 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 9 years ago
All they have to do is build space rings that hold fuel which can launch spacecraft and also refuel them, like on Star Wars. It's easily done! Space rings ?
Comment icon #15 Posted by Thorvir Hrothgaard 9 years ago
What "space rings" were used in Star Wars? I've seen all six movies....I don't recall anything like that. However, one could just install a hyperdrive in NASA ships...just like in Star Wars.


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