Slashdot reader Iwastheone quotes MIT News:
To closely observe an interstellar object (ISO) hurtling through space, time is of the essence. Richard Linares, an assistant professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, developed a concept for a “dynamic orbital slingshot for rendezvous with interstellar objects.” He outlined his idea in a research proposal that was recently selected as a Phase 1 study in the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which “funds innovative aerospace concepts that could enable and transform future missions….”
Linares envisions deploying a constellation of statites, or “static satellites” enabled by a solar sail constructed with just the right mass-to-area ratio to act as interstellar watchdogs along the edges of our solar system, lying in wait until roused by an ISO crossing our threshold. Once detected, the solar sail then enables the statite to switch gears quickly and spring into action. Since the statite has a velocity of zero, it is already in position for efficient trajectory. Once released, the stored energy in the solar sail would leverage the gravitational pull of the sun to slingshot the statite in a freefall trajectory towards the ISO, allowing it to catch up. If the timing is right, the statite could tag the ISO with a CubeSat armed with onboard sensors to orbit the ISO over an extended period of time, gathering important scientific data.
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