Are there plans on what an orbiter to Pluto might look like? Specifically, in the type of orbit one would do at the system. With the center of mass of Pluto/Charon being outside of either object, it seems to me it would be somewhat difficult to design an orbiter, even if we had the technology to build one today (I would argue we don't). Specifically, here's some things I believe should be considered:

  • Orbital lifetime- The orbit should be stable over a long period of time.
  • Close- It seems like the ability to be close to both Pluto and Charon would be required. I'm not sure of the orbital dynamics involved, but it seems like it would be desired.
  • Both faces- The orbit should be such that both faces of Pluto and Charon are visible in the light. As Pluto and Charon are tidally locked to each other, this seems difficult.

I could imagine that an ion drive would be involved in such a mission, with some delta v left over to transfer between the orbits. It would also be worthy of figuring out how much delta v would be required to make the orbit of Pluto happen in, say, 10 years time (Similar path to New Horizons, with a Jupiter flyby. For simplicity, you can assume exactly identical until after the Jupiter encounter)

  • $\begingroup$ I think that now that we know there's nothing in the Sailboat Island an orbiter, perhaps one that Mark Adler links to here could spiral into low altitude Pluto orbit via Charon with sufficient confidence in mission success (despite low mass margins)? $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Oct 4 '15 at 19:09