Author Douglas Adams’ popular novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” has apparently inspired NASA. The space organization is currently in development in a fascinating concept straight out of science fiction that would be able to be able to visit comets and asteroids via harpoon and tether.
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The proof is in a new concept developed by NASA to hop between comets and asteroids in our solar system.
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Comet Hitchhiker is a proposed small body jumper that would harness the kinetic energy of the objects it intends to visit via reusable harpoon and tether—thus eliminating the need for propellant when the craft enters orbit or lands.
The process is akin to catching a big fish. NASA explains, “Once the fish bites, you would release more of the line with a moderate tension, rather than holding it tightly. With a long enough line, the boat will eventually catch up with the fish.”
The proposed spacecraft would launch the harpoon, make contact, then slacken out the tether and allow its velocity to match that of the asteroid-comet. Once those velocities sync, Comet Hitchhiker would slowly reel in the tether and descend.
Researchers anticipate they could achieve five to 10 jumps per mission.
That is, if they can develop a harpoon that can survive impact and a tether strong enough not to snap under extreme heat and tension.
The project is currently in the first stage of study.
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