There are myriad reasons why getting from Earth to Mars is hard, but chief among them are two 1) the massive amount of fuel needed and 2) a launch window that is limited to every 26 months, when the two planets are in optimal alignment. A couple of mathematicians have calculated a new path to Mars that solves both — and it’s far from a straight line.
Mapping a route to Mars, of course, is more complicated than mapping any Earth-bound route. The distance between the two planets is constantly growing or shrinking, depending on their orbits around the sun. (That’s why the optimal launch window only opens every 26 months.) And you have to take into account how gravity from the Earth, Mars, and the sun will pull a spacecraft off its course.
Mathematicians Francesco Topputo and Edward Belbruno have calculated a path that actually takes advantage of the Mars’ own motion. The strategy is called ballistic capture, as opposed to what we now use, the Hohmann transfer. Scientific American explains both:
Instead of shooting for the location Mars will be in its orbit where the spacecraft will meet it, as is conventionally done with Hohmann transfers, a spacecraft is casually lobbed into a Mars-like orbit so that it flies ahead of the planet. Although launch and cruise costs remain the same, the big burn to slow down and hit the Martian bull’s-eye — as in the Hohmann scenario — is done away with. For ballistic capture, the spacecraft cruises a bit slower than Mars itself as the planet runs its orbital lap around the sun. Mars eventually creeps up on the spacecraft, gravitationally snagging it into a planetary orbit.
Read Full Story: We Found A New And Cheaper Way To Get To Mars | Gizmodo Australia