Are Low-Cost Missions to Explore the Bodies of the Outer Solar System Feasible

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D.G. Fearn (2001), JBIS, 54, 180-197

Refcode: 2001.54.180
Keywords: Interplanetary missions, high energy missions, ion propulsion, electric propulsion, nuclear electric propulsion

After considering the general requirements for deep space missions, in particular those to Europa, the various methods of reducing overall mission cost are discussed. It is shown that the greatest benefit will be obtained by employing an electric propulsion (EP) system providing a high specific impulse, which will enable the mass of propellant carried to be less than 10% of that necessary using chemical thrusters. This advantage is further enhanced if EP is also utilised to escape from the Earth's gravitational field. Other possible cost-reduction methods are also examined, including the use of nuclear power sources and spacecraft autonomy, with the latter showing considerable promise. Various candidate EP devices are described, including the series of gridded ion thrusters developed in the UK. Finally, it is reported that a very useful payload can be delivered to Europa within 4 years using a Delta-class launch vehicle.

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