New software to chart path for unmanned spacecraft to outer solar system

December 4th, 2007 - 2:39 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 4 (ANI): Aeronautical engineers have developed a sophisticated and mathematical software that would help to determine the most efficient path for an unmanned spacecraft to the outer fringes of the solar system.
The software was made by Craig Kluever, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, and Aaron D. Olds, a former MU graduate student.
In testing and validating the algorithm, the research team focused on the 1997 Cassini Mission, which was one of the most complicated explorations ever. During a seven-year journey from Earth to Saturn, the orbiter flew past Venus, Earth and Jupiter. It twice flew by Venus. Along the way, Cassini performed numerous gravity assists -close fly-by maneuvers that borrow energy from the planet and increase the speed of the spacecraft.
The new trajectory generated by Kluever and Olds matched the one created by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which developed Cassini’s route. “The mission-design software, which relies on optimization methods patterned from genetic evolution, makes sending a rover to Mars look relatively easy,” said Kluever.
“If you look at the trajectory, it doesn’t require a lot of twists, turns and gravity assists. It’s a straight shot. You need complicated mission software for ambitious missions to a comet, asteroid, moon of Saturn or beyond,” said Kluever. “We’re talking about missions where an unmanned spacecraft would fly by Venus to do a gravity assist and then fly by Jupiter to do a gravity assist. Before that, it may have to coast a year and half to come back to Venus for another gravity assist. These very high-energy targets require orbital tricks. Timing all of these maneuvers to find the optimal solution is complicated,” he added.
According to Kluever, though the mathematical principles behind the mission software developed at MU have been embraced primarily by the European Space Agency, it could attract NASA’s attention.
“When NASA begins planning future robotic missions, it will need software like this to solve those types of problems. But a lot of it depends on what NASA’s going to do with human space travel over the next 10 to 15 years,” said Kluever. (ANI)

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