Mathematicians have devised a cheaper method of traveling to Mars. New research suggests that ‘ballistic capture’ is the optimal method of traveling to the Red Planet.
The technique does not involve going directly to the planet, but rather, aim for a location ahead of Mars in its orbit around the sun and then wait for the planet to catch up.
According to Scientific American:
“For ballistic capture, the spacecraft cruises a bit slower than Mars itself as the planet runs its orbital lap around the sun. Mars eventually creeps up on the spacecraft, gravitationally snagging it into a planetary orbit.”
Structure of the ballistic capture transfers to Mars. Credit: arXiv:1410.8856 [astro-ph.EP]
The current method of reaching Mars is carried out by determining where the planet is going to be at a certain point in time and then ensuring that launching a rocket will get there at the same time.
However, this method, known as the Hohmann transfer approach, requires the use of retrorockets to significantly slow down the rocket as it approaches the planet, which uses a lot of fuel.
The ballistic capture approach would significantly cut fuel costs.
The concept was outlined in a new research paper by Edward Belbruno of Princeton Francesco Topputo of Milan’s Polytechnic University.
“It’s an eye-opener,” says James Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “It could be a pretty big step for us and really save us resources and capability, which is always what we’re looking for.”