The outer Solar system waiting. But how are we going to get it?

After about a year starts a new decade, and with it opens a whole new flow of ideas for NASA missions, some closer — like Mars, some away. Some quite distant. Some people expect that we will open the era of robotic travel in worlds that are not just millions — billions of kilometers away. Among them, Uranus and Neptune (the planets that we had visited in 1986 and 1989, respectively), as well as hundreds of icy bodies beyond the region known as the Kuiper belt.

The Kuiper belt is home to Pluto and other worlds in various sizes. Most of the bodies out there are composed of building blocks of our Solar system a long time ago convoyed in the distant icy edges. Visit the Kuiper belt can reveal to us clues to the issues, as formed our planet and its neighbors, why is there so much water and other mysteries.

On the borders of the Solar system

Uranus and Neptune also contain lots of puzzles all by themselves. The more we learn about planetary systems, the more we see that most of the worlds are not as large as Jupiter, and not so small as Earth. Many of them, usually the size is close to Uranus and Neptune “ice giants”, which received the name for an exotic state of water ice that lies deep beneath the cloud layers. The study of Uranus and Neptune will not only help us to understand the planets in our Solar system — it will help us to understand the planets that revolve around other stars.

Many of these missions are time-dependent. The upcoming Decadal Survey — “ten-year review” of NASA when the Agency send the spacecraft in the 2020s, and 2030-ies — can create or destroy these far-reaching plans for the development of the outer Solar system.

Decadal Survey: how will ten-year review

Starting in 2020, a group of National Academy of Sciences (with the participation of several stakeholders of the space community) will gather and make a list of priority objectives for research. Scientists will offer their own versions in the form of written recommendations, known as “white papers” (read: technical document).

These recommendations will arise a General consensus of what should be a priority. These goals serve as benchmarks for sentences of missions of the middle class in the category New Frontiers (New Horizons and Juno were in this category). NASA first collects the list of proposed missions, and then gradually narrows down to one or two finalists. As only the finalist gets the green light, the team standing behind him, to start planning and designing — and it takes years.

All this can make it difficult to hit a specific window in which you can explore Uranus or Neptune, as well as a look to the object from the Kuiper belt. That’s why accurate graphics to be risky.

A visit to an ice giant

One of the groups, in particular, has considered the mission a visit to Uranus and Neptune at the same time. The latest iteration includes a flyby of Uranus and the orbit of Neptune. Under the direction of Mark Hofstadter and Amy Simon, the researchers plan to look at the other side of Uranium is different from that of “Voyager-2” observed in 1986, and study Neptune and its largest moon Triton. Triton rotates backwards, which might be related to the fact that it was once the largest object in the Kuiper belt before Neptune pulled newt to himself, throwing many of their original companions.

Simon says that these missions should be deployed within 15 years, including travel time and research. This is due to how long the individual parts of the apparatus can be stored in space with relative confidence. While the spacecraft may survive longer, 15 years is the minimum, in which you can be sure that the mission will meet its scientific objectives fully But how to make the journey not spent too much resources in the current phase of the study? One of the ways to accelerate the spacecraft to use the gravitational force of the planet to disperse.

“Usually, to get there in less than 12 years old, resorted to the flybys of the planets, as a rule, including the Earth and Venus,” says Simon. In such scenarios, you are immersed in the gravity well of the planet, hoping for a slingshot effect which will drive your machine and save maximum fuel. “The best option is also used Jupiter because he is the most massive and can greatly accelerate the spacecraft”.

“New horizons”, for example, used the aid of Jupiter to reach Pluto. Cassini used four separate detour for overclocking using the Saturn after launching from Earth, obtaining acceleration from Venus twice, returning to Earth and finally, the final jump from Jupiter.

Simon says that in order to reach the Uranium in a short time, it would be possible to use a flyby of Saturn, for example, in the window between 2024 and 2028 year to capture gas giant in the right place in its 29-year orbit. This mission will require quick thoughts on the standards of NASA — the missions are planned for ten years before running, then planned, designed and launched within five years — so I have to rely on the next window, flyby of Jupiter in the period from 2029 to 2032, with subsequent access to the Neptune. The next chance will appear not earlier than in ten years.

Mission to Uranus can use traditional fuels and engines to get to the points disperse quickly — whether a rocket Atlas V or Delta IV Heavy. But due to the fact that Neptune is so far away and the exact track doesn’t line up as perfect as I would like, the mission to this planet will rely on the Space Launch System rocket, NASA’s next-generation extended capacity (and she’s not even flying). If she won’t be ready in time, we’ll have to rely on other next-generation technology: solar electricity, which uses solar energy for the ignition of the ionized gas to accelerate the movement of the vehicle. So far it was only used on the Dawn spacecraft missions to Vesta and Ceres and in two missions to small asteroids.

“Even in the case of solar electricity still need chemical engines, in case solar energy will cease to be effective as well as for braking into orbit,” says Simon.

Thus, the graph is dense enough. But if we move actively, both of these missions can serve another purpose: to reach unexplored worlds in the Kuiper belt.

The big unknown

Another work, written by three members of the team “New horizons”, examines the possibility of returning to the Kuiper belt after successful rides of the probe to Pluto. “We saw how it was interesting and wanted to know what there is else,” said Tiffany Finley, chief engineer, southwest research Institute (SWRI) and co-author of an article published in the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.

The Kuiper belt contains icy remnants left over from the formation of the Solar system and the objects in it include a huge variety of different materials. Pluto, for example, little more than the Eris. But Pluto is composed of ice, so it has less mass. Eris consists of rocks for the most part, so it is more dense. Some worlds, apparently, consist of methane, while others contain a lot of ammonia. Somewhere on the outskirts of our Solar system there are many dwarf planets and small worlds that keep the key points for our understanding of how are planets and other planetary system to be similar to ours.

The researchers used narrow restrictions: they have restricted the mission, a 25-year period and examined 45 of the brightest Kuiper belt objects, comparing them relative to different scenarios of planetary flybys. Jupiter, as not surprisingly, a large part of the goals list. But the window opens with Jupiter every 12 years, making the mission with his participation is time-dependent. Simple flybys of Saturn provides quite a good list of goals from the Kuiper belt.

But when you put these worlds in a couple of Uranus or Neptune, you get the chance to discover new facts about our mysterious, the most distant of the planets and some dwarf planets in one fell swoop.

To get to these worlds will help the effect of the slingshot, first from Jupiter and then from another planet. Each of these planets is aligned in a line with Jupiter in the narrow window in 2030-ies, and carefully placed in different parts of this decade. For example, to go to the list of worlds on the way to Neptune, you need to get to Jupiter in early 2030 years to reach the Kuiper belt using Uranium would require starting in the middle of 2030-ies. Jupiter and Saturn are aligned for “slingshot” in the Kuiper belt in the late 2030’s.

A list of goals promises many interesting possibilities. Varuna, oblong world that has found this form due to the fast speed, ideal for flybys of Jupiter-Uranus. Neptune, as already mentioned, gives the opportunity to look at Eridu. The mission through the Jupiter-Saturn will allow you to observe Sedna, a large dwarf planet with an orbit that can point the way to open the tenth planet. Jupiter-Saturn will make ostanovochka one of the most interesting dwarf planets: Haumea.

Like Varuna, Haumea different egg-shaped, while most of the larger dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt usually round. But Haumea received this form because of the ancient collision that gave her two moons, the ring system and the tail of debris. When asteroids have similar composition, they are called “family encounter.” Haumea has produced the only known family of collisions in the Kuiper belt.

“Haumea, of course, the coolest feature. All want to Haumea,” say the researchers.

Whatever we chose, the time we will not so much. Therefore, if we want to see the ring Haumea, or even red, alien light of Sedna, the work must begin in the near future. These worlds are so small that there is only one way to find out their secrets: to get to them.

And which object would like to visit you? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.

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