Missions

Thoughts on Voyager’s Closest Stars

May 6, 2015

Not long ago I looked at the future of the Voyager spacecraft and noted a possibility once suggested by Carl Sagan. Give the Voyagers one last ‘empty the tank’ burn and both could be put on a trajectory that would take them near, if not through, another star’s system (see Voyager to a Star). It […]

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Mission Updates: New Horizons, Hayabusa 2

March 11, 2015

While we wait for the Dawn spacecraft to come back around the lit side of Ceres as it continues a long period of orbital adjustment, let’s check in on two other spacecraft with the potential for a big science return. New Horizons performed a 93-second thruster burn on March 10 that was the farthest burn […]

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Long-Distance Spacecraft Engineering

December 30, 2014

I find few things more fascinating than remote fixes to distant spacecraft. We’ve used them surprisingly often, an outstanding case in point being the Galileo mission to Jupiter, launched in 1989. The failure of the craft’s high-gain antenna demanded that controllers maximize what they had left, using the low-gain antenna along with data compression and […]

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Interstellar Flight: Risks and Assumptions

October 8, 2014

The interstellar mission that Dana Andrews describes in his recent paper — discussed here over the past two posts — intrigues me because I’m often asked what the first possible interstellar mission might be. Sure, we can launch a flyby Voyager-class probe to Alpha Centauri if we’re willing to tolerate seventy-five thousand years in cruise, […]

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Starflight: Near-Term Prospects

October 6, 2014

If our exoplanet hunters eventually discover an Earth-class planet in the habitable zone of its star — a world, moreover, with interesting biosignatures — interest in sending a robotic probe and perhaps a human follow-up mission would be intense. In fact, I’m always surprised to get press questions whenever an interesting exoplanet is found, asking […]

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Sprites: A Chip-Sized Spacecraft Solution

July 17, 2014

In mid-June, NASA announced the award of two contracts with Deep Space Industries in conjunction with the agency’s plans to work with private industry in the exploration and harvesting of asteroids. One of these contracts caught my eye immediately. It involves small payloads that can ride along to supplement asteroid missions, and it’s in the […]

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Sagan’s Andromeda Crossing

June 25, 2014

When Carl Sagan and Iosif S. Shklovskii discussed travel to another galaxy in Intelligent Life in the Universe (Holden-Day, 1966), they considered the problem from the standpoint of the technologies then under discussion by theorists like Robert Forward and Robert Bussard. As I mentioned yesterday, the authors found hibernation interesting, drawing on the ideas of […]

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Deep Time: Targeting Another Galaxy

June 24, 2014

Interstellar flight isn’t about possibility as much as it is about time. We know we can launch a payload to another star if we’re willing to burn up enough millennia — about seventy — to get there in the form of a Voyager-style flyby. That’s with today’s technology, and we can extrapolate how the time […]

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New Horizons: The KBO Hunt Continues

May 27, 2014

Of the many interesting questions Nick Nielsen raised in last Friday’s post, the one that may be most familiar to the interstellar community is the question of potential breakthroughs. What happens if an unexpected discovery in propulsion makes all the intervening stages — building up a Solar System-wide infrastructure step by step — unnecessary? If […]

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The Infrastructure Problem [1]

April 25, 2014

Nick Nielsen today tackles an issue we’ve often discussed in these pages, the space-based infrastructure many of us assume necessary for deep space exploration. But infrastructures grow in complexity in relation to the demands placed upon them, and a starship would, as Nick notes, be the most complex machine ever constructed by human hands. Are […]

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