Preliminary plans for a Ceres polar lander being drawn up

Sunday, April 19, 2009

F YEAHH!!!!!! This is the kind of news I like, and it fits in well with this post where I explain why Ceres is likely a better location for human colonization than Mars, and this means that after Dawn arrives in 2015 the next step is going to be a lander. Apparently the preliminary plans for this lander would mean using a Soyuz to send it on a 4-year trip, and after it arrives it would orbit Ceres for a while and then eventually the lander would be sent to the surface. Four years is not too bad; Galileo took six years to reach Jupiter and Cassini took seven years to reach Saturn. The article doesn't say whether it would take advantage of gravity assists from other planets on the way as the other two did, but it's probably likely. Flying past other destinations on the way is often half the fun.

I'm not sure if I would bet on this being a polar lander though - it certainly could be, but we still don't have any detailed information on Ceres and Dawn could turn up some much more interesting locales to explore in the meantime. Ceres is also relatively small (the surface area is still the size of Argentina though so it's no midget) and gravity is low so some have put forth the idea of a rover that hops over large distances rather than just rolling about, but this upcoming mission is supposed to be low-cost so something that impressive probably isn't feasible.

Possible date: ...2030? Not really sure. I really, really hope it doesn't take that long.

In fact, I bet it doesn't. This upcoming decade is going to witness a huge leap in technology and development as we finally leave the internal combustion engine behind, poverty is reduced in huge countries like India and China, access to space becomes cheap (SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace), and within a few years we will know about the presence of other Earth-like planets as well so we won't view space in the same way either. Well, whether Ceres becomes a major target for exploration remains to be seen, but in general I think we're nearing the end of the primary age of exploration where travel to space is expensive, time-consuming and done by government alone.


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