A NASA technologist has developed a fully automated tool that gives mission planners a preliminary set of detailed directions for efficiently steering a spacecraft to hard-to-reach interplanetary destinations, such as Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and most comets and asteroids.
The tool, the Evolutionary Mission Trajectory Generator, offers a "paradigm shift" from what is normally done, said Jacob Englander, a technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who devised a concept for his computer-based tool while a doctorate student at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
With the autonomous technology, mission developers do not need to make an educated guess of a possible spacecraft trajectory or path to a particular target. Without any forethought or noodling, all mission developers need to do with his tool is input a series of parameters, such as the spacecraft’s point of origin, its final destination and physical characteristics, as well as a range of launch dates and flight times.
The software tool then uses these data points to calculate the most efficient trajectory, including the number of flybys, for reaching a celestial target, whether it is a moon in the outer solar system or a Kuiper Belt object.
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