A realistic interstellar explorer

McNutt, R. L.; Andrews, G. B.; McAdams, J.; Gold, R. E.; Santo, A.; Oursler, D.; Heeres, K.; Fraeman, M.; Williams, B.
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p917
Academic Journal
For more than 20 years, an “Interstellar Precursor Mission” to ∼1000 AU within the working lifetime of the initiators (<50 years) has been discussed as a high priority for multiple scientific objectives. During the last two years there has been renewed interest in actually sending a probe to another star system - a “grand challenge” for NASA - and the idea of a precursor mission has been renewed as a beginning step to achieve this goal. We revisit an old idea for implementing such a mission. The probe is launched initially to Jupiter and then falls to the Sun where a large propulsive ΔV maneuver propels it on a high-energy ballistic escape trajectory from the solar system. The implementation requires a low-mass, highly-integrated spacecraft to make use of moderate (Delta-class) expendable launch vehicles. We provide a first-order cut at many of the engineering realities associated with such a probe. We identify a mission concept that can link the required science, desired instruments, spacecraft engineering and the realities of the fiscal and technological milieu in which NASA must operate if such missions are to reach fruition and lay the groundwork for eventually realizing true starships. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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