NASA Funds Research into Using the Solar Oberth Maneuver to Explore Deep Space

Graphic depiction of Combined Heat Shield and Solar Thermal Propulsion System for an Oberth Maneuver. (Credits: Jason Benkoski)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding research into advanced technology that would allow spacecraft to combine its propulsion system and the sun’s gravity to reach the distant Kuiper Belt or interstellar space in far less time than is possible today.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Receives Contract for up to Two More MMRTGS for Future Deep Space Exploration Missions

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Perseverance Rover. Perseverance’s power source, a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, is visible at the aft end of the rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 12, 2021 – Aerojet Rocketdyne recently received a contract award to deliver up to two Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTG) to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for use in future planetary science missions. MMRTGs are radioisotope power systems that have been used as reliable electrical power sources on multiple deep space missions, including NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which will land on Mars on Feb. 18.

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Proposed NASA Mission Would Visit Neptune’s Curious Moon Triton

This global color mosaic of Neptune’s moon Triton was taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA/JPL/USGS)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago, it wrote a planetary science cliffhanger.

Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have flown past Neptune, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. The views were as stunning as they were puzzling, revealing massive, dark plumes of icy material spraying out from Triton‘s surface. But how? Images showed that the icy landscape was young and had been resurfaced over and over with fresh material. But what material, and from where?

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A Closer Look at NIAC Phase II Awards for Asteroids & Moons

Graphic depiction of Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object (Credits: Steven Oleson)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following three Phase II awards focused on new ways of exploring asteroids and moons.

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with AoES (Area-of-Effect Soft-bots)
Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder

Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object
Steven Oleson
NASA Glenn Research Center

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
Michael VanWoerkom
ExoTerra Resource

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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