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Gravitational Currents Could Slash Fuel Needed For Space Flight 177

Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that scientists are mapping the gravitational corridors created from the complex interplay of attractive forces between planets and moons that can be used to cut the cost of journeys in space. 'Basically the idea is there are low energy pathways winding between planets and moons that would slash the amount of fuel needed to explore the solar system,' says Professor Shane Ross from Virginia Tech. 'These are free-fall pathways in space around and between gravitational bodies. Instead of falling down, like you do on Earth, you fall along these tubes.' The pathways connect Lagrange points where gravitational forces balance out. Depicted by computer graphics, the pathways look like strands of spaghetti that wrap around planetary bodies and snake between them. 'If you're in a parking orbit round the Earth, and one of them intersects your trajectory, you just need enough fuel to change your velocity and now you're on a new trajectory that is free,' says Ross. 'You could travel between the moons of Jupiter essentially for free. All you need is a little bit of fuel to do course corrections.' The Genesis spacecraft used gravitational pathways that allowed the amount of fuel carried by the probe to be cut 10-fold, but the trade off is time. While it would take a few months to get around the Jovian moon system using gravitational currents (PDF), attempting to get a free ride from Earth to Mars on the currents might take thousands of years."

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