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When reading the Discover Magazine article How New Horizons Survived the 40-Year-Glitch and Made it to Pluto while writing this question I saw "...the new NASA administrator tried to kill New Horizons in favor of a high-tech fission-powered mission." (see below for the context):

What was the high-tech fission-powered mission? Does it have a name - and is it described somewhere?

The missions had such hopeful names: Pluto 350, Pluto Fast Flyby, Pluto Express. Finally, Stern came up with the winning concept, New Horizons. His final proposal was due one week after 9/11, while the offices of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (which operates the mission) were still shut. Stern completed the proposal and NASA approved it.

The following year, the new NASA administrator tried to kill New Horizons in favor of a high-tech fission-powered mission. He failed, and New Horizons survived. One benefit of its long, difficult competition is that Stern and the mission engineers came up with a relatively inexpensive, flyweight spacecraft. New Horizons weighs about half as much as Voyager 1, and in real dollars costs roughly one-third as much. Placing a lightweight probe atop a large Atlas V rocket yielded the fastest object ever launched when New Horizons took off in 2006...

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  • $\begingroup$ Some info here (sorry for long link): google.com/… Best info might be the list of papers cited $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 17 '16 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ The paper is interesting - actually I suppose sooner or later nuclear electric propulsion will be tested, this was a little ahead of its time perhaps. It seems to be called NEPSTP (Nuclear Electric Propulsion Space Test Program), but I would have called it U2Pu (Uranium to Pluto). Thanks!! (this link also works: erps.spacegrant.org/uploads/images/images/…) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 17 '16 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble would you be interested in posting a short answer based on the links in these comments? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 23 '18 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'll try to actually answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 24 '18 at 0:32
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It appears that the "fission mission" was called the Pluto Fast Flyby. It was two small RTG powered spacecraft, and "found a ready ally in then NASA administrator D. Goldin". The "high tech" part of your quote may refer to the "highly miniaturized (then nonexistent)" instruments.

However, in the late spring of 1992, a new, more radical mission concept called Pluto Fast Flyby (PFF) was introduced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a “faster, better, cheaper” alternative to the Mariner Mark II and Pluto-350 Pluto mission concepts. As initially conceived, PFF was to weigh just 35–50 kg and carry only 7 kg of highly miniaturized (then nonexistent) instruments, and fly two spacecraft to Pluto for less than \$ 500M. PFF found a ready ally in then NASA Administrator D. Goldin, who directed all Pluto-350 and Mariner Mark II work to cease in favor of PFF. PFF would have launched its two flyby spacecraft on Titan IV-Centaur launchers; these low-mass spacecraft would have shaved the Pluto-350 and Mariner Mark II flight times from 12–15 years down to 7 or 8 years. Like Mariner Mark II and Pluto-350, PFF involved RTG power and Jupiter gravity assists (JGAs). The heavier missions also involved Earth and Venus gravity assists on the way to Jupiter. All these mission concepts were developed by JPL mission study teams. Shortly after PFF was introduced, however, it ran into problems. One was mass growth, which quickly escalated the flight system to ~140 kg with no increase in science payload mass. A second issue involved cost increases, largely due to a broad move within NASA to include launch vehicle costs in mission cost estimates; since two Titan IV launchers alone cost over \$800M, this pushed PFF to well over \$1B. A third issue was the turmoil introduced into NASA’s planetary program by the loss of the Mars Observer in 1993. These events caused PFF to lose favor at NASA, and the concept never made it into the development phase. Nevertheless, during 1994–1995 PFF did solicit, select, and fund the breadboard/brassboard development of a suite of miniaturized imagers, spectrometers, and radio science and plasma instruments, whose successors would ultimately become the science payload on NH.

Source

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  • $\begingroup$ The source is from the book The Solar System Beyond Neptune? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 24 '18 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like it. There's a top level directory here web.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/out/kbbook There's a warning about copying the book at your link. Not sure why this Cal Tech guy has it on his website.... But your link is weird. "Downloading of a chapter by anyone other than an author of that chapter is expressly prohibited." That sounds as useful as the FBI warning on VHS tapes. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 24 '18 at 1:24

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