Scientists from leading Chinese universities propose sending a nuclear-powered spacecraft into Neptune’s orbit. It should go to the most distant planet of the Solar System in 2030. This is reported by The Register.
So far, astronomers have not had many opportunities to look at Neptune up close. They received the most detailed data about the planet from NASA’s Voyager, which flew past the planet back in 1989. Now Chinese scientists believe that they will be able to launch a spacecraft into its orbit.
The mission will face significant challenges. The space in which the outer planets are located is cold and dark. Ships flying to such a distance cannot rely on solar energy and need other sources for their work.
Radioisotope thermoelectric generators have already been used on more than 30 missions, providing space vehicles with heat and fuel. They work by converting heat from the radioactive decay of fuel, such as plutonium-238, into electricity.
The Chinese authors predict that the spacecraft will weigh up to 3,000 kg and will be powered by a nuclear reactor at one end. It will also carry four smaller satellites. Two for studying Neptune’s atmosphere and two more for Triton, its largest moon. Triton is a strange object. It rotates in the opposite direction to Neptune, is geologically active, and may have liquid oceans beneath its icy surface.
The best time to launch a spacecraft will be in 2030. NASA is also considering the possibility of studying Neptune.