NASA is looking into several methods of space exploration aside from the obvious one which requires rockets and expensive spacecrafts that require a lot of fuel to carry out their business up in space. The agency is working on a new spacecraft concept which will basically hitch a ride on a speeding comet to discover the solar system, some of these comets and asteroids are whizzing by at over 22,000 miles per hour which is actually considered to be on the slow end.
NASA calls this spacecraft concept the Comet Hitchhiker, it has been developed at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was presented this week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space conference.
The idea is to first establish contact with the comet or asteroid with a tether and then maintain a nominal amount of tension in the tether allowing the spacecraft to accelerate and match the projectile’s speed. The tension in the tether will harvest energy which will be stored onboard for later use.
Once it reaches the same speed as its ride the Comet Hitchhiker will reel in its tether, but seeing as how this would happen in the vacuum of space, the spacecraft will actually be reeling itself down on the surface of the comet. It can land and take samples from the comet, maybe a picture or two and beam it back to earth.
What’s even more interesting is how the Comet Hitchhiker will jump from comet to comet, it will basically propel itself off the projectile by using stored energy and hook a tether to its next target. Project leader Masahiro Ono believes this method will allow the spacecraft to reach Pluto in as little as six years and go further to the edge of our solar system.