Ask Ethan: Can We Send A Cassini-Like Mission …

Ask Ethan: Can We Send A Cassini-Like Mission To Uranus Or Neptune?

“There is a window coming when spacecraft could be sent to Uranus or Neptune using Jupiter for a gravitational boost. What are the constraints on using this but being able to slow sufficiently for entering orbit around the “ice giants”?”

Going to the outer solar system is challenging. You have to launch with a tremendous speed, and then take advantage of planetary alignments and the gravity assist technique to bring you to an outer planet. If you want to go into orbit around a world out there, the challenge is even greater: you need to slow down and insert yourself into a stable, long-term orbit. That involves bringing fuel on board, and more fuel means more weight devoted to that, and less weight devoted to science instruments. In 2034, a spectacular opportunity will arise: a launch window that’s perfect for sending twin orbiters to Neptune and Uranus. The proposed ODINUS mission, a joint NASA/ESA venture, would teach us more about these outer worlds with hypothetical liquid oceans beneath their atmospheres than any other mission would. They may turn out to be as different as Earth and Venus are from one another.

We can send a Cassini-like mission to Uranus and Neptune, but there are some serious obstacles to overcome. Here’s how we just might do it!