SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk offered an unusual approach to conducting a robotic study of the major external planets, asteroids and solar system comets requiring a star star ship with a minimal payload of Starlink satellites modified for interplanetary cruises and high Separation Cameras .
In order to allow for such an arrangement, it sounds like a wasteful version of the Star Ship, it has to be designed and built by cutting as much external mass as possible so as to put as much energy into the payload as possible. The outer planets – those outside the main asteroid grid of the solar system – are at least 400 million miles (~ 650 million km) from the Earth and extend to bodies like 201
New horizons, a small but astonishing spacecraft responsible for the first pictures of Pluto and (rather, the strange comet MU69 / asteroid, is probably the best example of what Musk offers, weighing less than 480kg (1060 lb) and powered by a radioisotope generator (RTG), the spacecraft was launched in January 2006. and – after a single gravitational aid around Jupiter – took off from Pluto less than ten years later in July 2015, traveling with After traveling a few billion miles for nearly a decade, New Horizons completed its main mission, returning incredible views of the unexpectedly exotic Pluto (NASA / JPL)
Sometimes at least the first prototypes of Spacelink's Starlink satellite constellation weighed about 400 kg (880 pounds) during their launch in March 2018, just shy of New Horizons' own dry mass. However, the main differences are abundant. Most importantly, Starlink's satellites will be powered by solar grids optimized for offshore energy generation from the Sun compared to the New Horizons RTG reactor. At distances outside Saturn, relying on solar energy would be an extraordinary challenge for any spacecraft that hopes to do more than just survival. For example, due to some irreconcilable laws of physics, New Horizons will receive – quite literally – 0.06% solar energy per unit area in Pluto.
In order to produce the scarce 300-Watts New Horizon from its nuclear source, a Starlink companion will need a minimum of 1400 m ^ 2 (~ 15,000 ft ^ 2) of high-performance solar panels to survive and power a minimum set of tools and communication hardware. Assuming the solar grid of 170 g / m ^ 2 is offered by Alta Devices, a Starlink companion will need solar cells weighing not less than 250 kg (550 lb) for working in Pluto, a mass that absolutely does not affect the complex. mechanisms needed to deploy a third of an acre of solar panels from an area of just a few cubic meters.
Frankly, the study of solar energy beyond the orbit of Jupiter and perhaps Saturn becomes almost impossible. In addition, the above figures do not even take into account the electric pushers of any Starlink spacecraft that would need several times more solar panels or massive batteries (which require heaters) to operate at the optimum power level for long, uninterrupted time periods, need for electric drive. A few billion miles closer to the sun, the main asteroid belt, or the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, solar power is still extremely challenging, but not impossible. The NASA spacecraft, Juno, the first solar-powered vehicle to visit the outer planets, uses 72 m 2 (800 ft 2) of solar arrays to produce less than 500 watts Jupiter, compared to ~ 14 kW that can produce around the Earth, Juno's solar arrays are impressive ~ 28% effective, but still weigh 340kg (750lb) and produce less than 500 watts around Jupiter. (NASA)
At the end of the day StarLink's space satellites and SpaceX Star-Started SpaceX will have to undergo a radical (and thus expensive) redesign to achieve such an ambitious "tour" of the External Solar System, probably a requirement to develop and integrate entirely new technologies and exploration strategies to lower the ground. Although the challenges are enormous, the fact that Mr Musk is already interested in supporting such a science-based research mission is trusted by the many future benefits that could soon be derived from Starlink and Starship if they are successful. Assuming the missions remain within the Inner Solar System, the research architecture described by Musk is now easily feasible and will not require the major modifications and jumps required for the Outer Solar System. Possible destinations, where they could be practical, include the Moon, Mars, Venus, the main asteroid belt (ie, Ceres, Vesta, etc.) and many others.
If SpaceX can find a way to get both Starlink and Starship off the ground and into operational configurations, the future of space research – both human and robotic – can be extremely bright.
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