Discussion on a manned mission to Ceres on space.com forums

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From Wikipedia: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took these images of the asteroid 1 Ceres over a 2-hour and 20-minute span, the time it takes the Texas-sized object to complete one quarter of a rotation. One day on Ceres lasts 9 hours. The bright spot that appears in each image is a mystery. It is brighter than its surroundings. Yet it is still very dark, reflecting only a small portion of the sunlight that shines on it.

Right here. Ceres is a particularly exciting target for exploration considering its frequent launch windows (compared to Mars), low gravity (= easier and cheaper to get back; landing is easier as well), shorter days (10 hours or so, = less night to get through before solar cells are recharged) and lack of weather (Martian sand storms interfere with generating electricity by both covering up the Sun as well as settling on solar panels and making it hard to collect electricity even when it's sunny).

If you're interested in the subject too, sign up and leave a message there to add to the discussion.

One question I've never been able to find the answer to: Dawn will be arriving at Ceres in 2015, but will we have better Earth-based observations of the planet before it arrives? How much more do we expect to find out about it in the next six years before Dawn gets there? Six years is still a very long time.

The closest Ceres will be to Earth in between now and February 2015 when Dawn arrives are:
  • February 27, 2009: 1.583 AU
  • June 17, 2010: 1.825 AU
  • September 15, 2011: 1.992 AU
  • December 19, 2012: 1.682 AU
  • April 15, 2014: 1.636 AU
So as you can see, the best time to observe Ceres until then is a mere three months away.

As for Vesta (the first target), the best times to observe it before Dawn arrives on September 2011 are:
  • (one month ago) October 25, 2008: 1.539 AU <-- including this because perhaps some observations have been made that haven't been published yet and I should remember to check
  • February 24, 2010: 1.411 AU
  • August 2, 2011: 1.227 AU <-- just one month before arrival


Anonymous said...

Ceres could very well be an important hotbed of sapce commerce. Although it's very distant, the delta V requirements for reaching it's surface are low, lower even than the moon! That means, that if someone could set up some sort of automated system of bringing raw materials from ceres to earth, it could actually be cheaper than mining the moon. However, Any human presence on ceres would be hampered by the distance and length of the journey. Mining of ceres would have to be almost entirely automated in order to be competitive, meanwhile, astronauts on the moon could smelt moon rocks, and only need to send valuable metals and volatiles back, an automated system on ceres would mainly just bring rocks whose mass might be mostly waste. However, ceres is believed to be very high in volatiles, it may possibly harbor underground oceans, similar to Europa.

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