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China Ponders Nuclear-Powered 2030 Mission To Neptune

Thursday June 30, 2022. 03:00 PM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Scientists at top universities in China propose sending a spacecraft powered by nuclear fission to orbit Neptune -- the outermost planet in our solar system -- in 2030. Astronomers have not yet been able to look at Uranus and Neptune in much detail. The best data collected so far comes from NASA's Voyager 2, the only spacecraft to have flown by the big blue orbs way back in 1986 and 1989. The challenges involved are considerable. The outer solar system is cold, dark, and cruel. Spacecraft flying far from the Sun cannot rely on solar power, and need other sources of energy to maintain steady orbits and keep their instruments from freezing.

The Chinese authors envisioned a spacecraft with a mass up to 3,000 kilograms powered by a nuclear fission reactor at one end. It would also carry four smaller satellites -- two to study Neptune's atmosphere and another two to probe Triton, its largest moon, The Planetary Society first reported. Triton is an odd object -- it orbits in the opposite direction to its host planet, is geologically active, and may harbor liquid oceans beneath its icy crust. The best time to launch such a spacecraft would be 2030, the scientists reckoned. It could fly aboard China National Space Administration's Long March 5 rocket, and would reach Neptune a decade later after flying by the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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