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Pluto Orbiter/lander/sample return missions using the MITEE nuclear engine

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3 Author(s)
Powell, J. ; Plus Ultra Technol. Inc., Shoreham, NY, USA ; Maise, G. ; Paniagua, J.

Pluto Orbiter/lander and sample return missions are not impossible using chemical propulsion, but are possible with nuclear thermal propulsion. Using the MITEE nuclear engine, a spacecraft could first orbit Pluto, mapping it, and then land at a selected site, 12 years after the departure form Earth. If surface water/ice is available, fresh H2 propellant could be manufactured by electrolysis of melt H2O using power from the bi-modal nuclear engine, enabling multiple hops to new sites for further data collection. A warm water probe could also be deployed to explore the interior of Pluto's ice sheets. After completing exploration, the spacecraft could return samples from Pluto to Earth with a 12-year trip time. Mission architectures and the design of the spacecraft, nuclear propulsion engine, propellant manufacturing unit and warm water probe are described herein.

Published in:

Aerospace Conference, 2003. Proceedings. 2003 IEEE  (Volume:1 )

Date of Conference:

March 8-15, 2003