Ballistic Capture: A Different Way to Mars

Scientific American has an interesting article regarding a different approach to configuring a Mars transfer orbit, one which trades the minimal time and energy for a typical Hohmann transfer orbit for an alternate approach which takes longer but requires even less energy:

“The premise of a ballistic capture: 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.”

The complete article is linked here, and is certainly worth a read.

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