Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Proposed Neptune Mission Would "Go Large"

The Voyager craft had a spectacular flyby of Neptune in 1989, capturing stunning images of Neptune's moon Triton as well.

In what would be only the second visit in history to the planet Neptune, a US based research group is apparently proposing to go large this time...

There are numerous technical hurdles to overcome(check out the small white paper PDF download on item 6), and it's no guarantee the mission will get off the ground. The project's main purpose at this early stage is to explore the technical feasibility of such a mission.

The plan calls for two expendable probes to be launched from a larger "mother ship" to the surface of Neptune. However, the really tricky part of the plan is to actually put a lander on the moon Triton.

A proposed timetable would launch in 2016, with a flyby of Jupiter in 2020 to collect data and gather speed. The probes would be launched to Neptune from the "mother ship" in 2029, and finally the proposed touchdown of the main lander craft on the surface of Triton in 2033.

This is an exciting and technically challenging mission that should help define the way we approach large-scale space exploration missions. It will surely bring more insight to the running debate over the evolution of Heavy Launch Vehicles and their alternatives.

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