A Better Way To Get To Mars?

ScientificAmerican - Getting spacecraft to Mars is quite a hassle. Transportation costs can soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars, even when blasting off during "launch windows"—the optimal orbital alignments of Earth and Mars that roll around only every 26 months. A huge contributor to that bottom line? The hair-raising arrivals at the Red Planet. Spacecraft screaming along at many thousands of kilometers per hour have to hit the brakes hard, firing retrorockets to swing into orbit. The burn can require hundreds of pounds of extra fuel, lugged expensively off Earth, and comes with some risk of failure that could send the craft careening past or even right into Mars.

This brute force approach to attaining orbit, called a Hohmann transfer, has served historically deep-pocketed space agencies well enough. But in an era of shrinking science budgets the Hohmann transfer's price tag and inherent riskiness look limiting.

Now new research lays out a smoother, safer way to achieve Martian orbit without being restricted by launch windows or busting the bank. Called ballistic capture, it could help open the Martian frontier for more robotic missions, future manned expeditions and even colonization efforts.

Read the rest of "A New Way to Reach Mars Safely, Anytime and on the Cheap" at ScientificAmerican.com