Asteroids / Satellites and Missions

Destination – Asteroid Belt!

Lynn and I gave another ‘Lynn and Amy’ show on Sept. 3rd. Our topic this time was “Our trip to the Asteroid Belt”, or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”.

Planning a trip to the asteroid belt requires a lot of research. After all, if we’re going to spend that much time cooped up in a small spacecraft we better have some cool destinations in mind! It turns out that the asteroid belt is NOT the veritable mine field portrayed in Sci-fi movies. It’s actually fairly easy to get through, no need to dodge asteroids. In fact, the entire mass of the asteroid belt if compacted would be roughly 4% of the moon. The four largest asteroids: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea account for half the belts mass, with Ceres making up a third!

Image from Space-Facts.com
Image from Space-Facts.com

The good people at NASA have a lot of experience traveling to the asteroid belt.  One mission, the ARM, or Asteroid Redirect Mission is in the planning phase. They plan on bringing back an asteroid and putting it in orbit around the moon.  Don’t worry, it’s going to be a small one. The spacecraft would use a solar electric propulsion engine. Unfortunately we still have to develop a SEP that has enough power to get to the asteroid belt, grab an asteroid and bring it back.

Artist concept showing the Dawn spacecraft with Ceres and Vesta.
Artist concept showing the Dawn spacecraft with Ceres and Vesta. Image from NASA.gov

Since the ARM is still in the planning phase  there’s no way we’ll be traveling to an asteroid in lunar orbit any time soon. We needed to check out something more current, so we looked at the  Dawn mission. The Dawn mission is half complete. It has already studied Vesta, the first of it’s two destinations and is on it’s way to Ceres.  This spacecraft uses an entirely different method of travel, ion propulsion. It’s economical, lightweight and very maneuverable. The downside is that it is very pokey.

It turns out that we may have to put off our trip to the asteroid belt for awhile. First of all, I just don’t have enough PTO banked to cover that kind of time, and second we should really wait until a more convenient method of travel is developed. We’ll leave the asteroid exploring to robot satellites and future NASA astronauts.

In the mean time – a girl can dream!!

Dare to dream!

 Amy

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