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Space Science

Beware the Rings of Pluto 96

Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists are planning a new route for NASA's New Horizons space probe as it approaches a potentially perilous path toward Pluto through a possible set of rings that may create dangerous debris zones for the NASA spacecraft. New Horizons is currently about 1,000 days away and 730 million miles from closest approach to Pluto but given that New Horizons is currently zooming away from the sun at more than 33,500 mph, 'a collision with a single pebble, or even a millimeter-sized grain, could cripple or destroy New Horizons,' says project scientist Hal Weaver. 'We need to steer clear of any debris zones around Pluto.' Researchers are making plans to avoid these hazards if New Horizons needs to. 'We are now exploring nine other options, "bail-out trajectories,"' says principal investigator Alan Stern. New Horizon's current plan would take it about halfway between Pluto and the orbit of its largest moon, Charon. Four of the bail-out trajectories would still take the spacecraft between Pluto and Charon's orbit. The other alternatives would take New Horizons much further away from Pluto, past the orbits of its known moons. 'If you fly twice as far away, your camera does half as well; if it's 10 times as far, it does one-tenth as well,' says Stern. 'Still, half a loaf is better than no loaf. Sending New Horizons on a suicide mission does no one any good. We're very much of the mind to accomplish as much as we can, and not losing it all recklessly. Better to turn an A+ to an A- than get an F by overreaching.'"
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Beware the Rings of Pluto

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  • 1/r^2 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:23PM (#41683383) Journal

    I thought if you fly twice as far, your camera will work 1/4 as well, not 1/2.

  • Crazy thought (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @02:14PM (#41684045)
    So since most of the cost in any given NASA science project is in the hardware research and engineering not the construction, neither launch nor operation side why they hell aren't they making use of economies of scale? Stop building only one of something (well technically two, the "on earth version" and the "mission" version). Spread the risk out by flying in multiples. It would be unfortunate if one of them hits a "pebble" but the science returned would be magnitudes better because they're able to take advantage of opportunities that wouldn't be possible due to risk aversion. Take it a step further and make use of the same hardware R&D for multiple missions. Engineer a few platforms that are robust, and reasonably customizable. Each platform with a particular type of mission in mind. Put a Curiosity on Europa, Titan, and/or Ariel. Get an MRO around Ganymede, etc.. You don't need 7 minutes of terror if the hardware you spent more than $2B developing has already been flown and proven on other missions. You wouldn't be (as) scared to death that Congress will cut your funds because you're making good, efficient use of the R&D money. "Yes senator, that $2B from Congress has given us a platform we've reused on 10 missions now."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @02:45PM (#41684465)

    I thought all christians believed the earth was flat, the earth is the center of the solar system and the universe ended at the barrier around our solar system..

    That's because you're a bigot.

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