BDanielMayfield wrote: ↑Mon Apr 02, 2018 3:32 pm
Chris Peterson wrote: ↑Mon Apr 02, 2018 2:13 pm
BDanielMayfield wrote: ↑Mon Apr 02, 2018 2:04 pm
A Ring Explorer mission is called for. Is one in the works?
It's a huge technical challenge. Spacecraft and small bits of stuff don't mix well. A damaged or uncontrollable spacecraft inside the ring system could be a disaster for future research (which is why they have been careful to avoid the rings, and design orbits such that damaged probes would decay into Saturn, and, of course, to deliberately dispose of probes into Saturn).
Not a mission that couldn't be done, but not an easy one.
Thanks for that Chris, which well explains why such a mission hasn't been attempted yet. My thinking was of placing a probe (or, better yet, several small probes) in an (a) orbit(s) inside the rings such that the velocity differences between probe and ring objects would be very small.
Have any planetary missions been easy? Many things worth doing aren't.
It sounds like such an excellent objective to me. Are the challenges mainly a question of sufficient motion control to navigate this environment? I'm wondering how much harm would be caused by a small space probe, about the size of a car, that has died in the middle of a ring. Particularly if it is constructed out of not-very-offensive materials.
I think a wonderful mission plan would be to try to drop into the Encke Gap, trying to get near to Pan, then to pull out of the rings, and slip down to the Huygens gap and, if successfully inserted into the middle of it, to work inward until good views of ring particles were seen. The main goal would be for close-up observation of ring composition. All the while, I think verification of forces and dynamics would be a second goal. My plan may be trying the wrong approach. If all you want is a good look at the typical composition of the rings, perhaps just flying straight into the middle of the B ring is your best and simplest plan, not pussy-footing around with it like my other strategy.
One question that I'd anticipate immediately if anyone seriously considers this idea, is "What kind of energy would the craft need to expend to maneuver 'out of' the rings?" A spacecraft that was a kilometer above the rings would naturally be in an orbit that would not stay there, but would make it pass through the rings twice per orbit. But no doubt with the exertion of some energy, it should be able to follow a non-natural path away from its natural orbit. I'd love it if someone with better knowledge of orbital mechanics could "school me" in this idea. Feasible or not? I don't know. Have we ever tried to put a spacecraft into an off-center orbit and maintain it for some reason? I kind of doubt that we have, but I also doubt that it is any harder to work out than some of the other amazing flight plans NASA has executed.
I think I like this goal mainly because I am such a tourist at heart. I can't argue that this information cannot be gathered in some other way, nor can I argue that this information is vital. It's just one of the things that has my curiosity aroused.
I note that space.com did an article listing the leading proposals for a return to Saturn just days after Cassini obediently took its suicidal plunge into Saturn's atmosphere. https://www.space.com/38159-future-satu ... ssini.html
A ring-exploration mission was not
among the list of leading proposals.