What is it about?

The current study endeavors to elucidate the determination and analysis of feasible flight trajectories to the trans-Neptunian object, Sedna, commencing from the year 2029. The routes considered include a direct flight as well as a flight that encompasses gravity assist maneuvers. The investigation examines prospective gravity assist maneuvers near Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, in view of minimizing ΔV and flight duration. It is demonstrated that for the launch windows within 2029-2034, the schema of flight to Sedna with Venus-Earth-Earth-Jupiter gravity assists as a base can significantly diminish the total ΔV required to reach Sedna, with limitations on the time of flight from 20 to 50 years. The flight schemes that comprise Earth-Earth-Jupiter gravity assists and Earth-Jupiter part, similar to the New Horizons mission, were also evaluated. Remarkably, during all maneuvers encompassing the Earth-Earth trajectory part, an application of a small impulse near aphelion of that part of the orbit was also considered. The study further contemplates flight trajectories that permit a time of flight within 20 years. Additionally, the expansion mission scenarios to trans-Neptunian bodies are proposed by amalgamation of scientific missions to explore the outer planets with a flight to the trans-Neptunian region. Another perspective could entail a coordinated flight to two or more transneptunian objects by disseminating the spacecraft during the last gravity assist maneuver. Five transneptunian objects have been discovered under such a scenario, the flight to which is feasible during a simultaneous flight to Sedna, by schemes involving maneuvers near Jupiter and Neptune.

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Why is it important?

A trans-Neptunian object (90377) Sedna is a typical object of a separate group of trans-Neptunian objects, i.e. celestial bodies orbiting in the Kuiper Belt and in the scattered disk.  At the time of the discovery in 2003, Sedna was considered one of the most distant objects in the Solar System. Sedna was named after the goddess of the Inuit and the Eskimos. In their view Sedna, as the goddess of the realm of the dead, rules the desert of eternal cold - Adlivun. By some estimates the surface composition of Sedna shows that it may be covered by a layer of hydrocarbon sediment (tholin), which is formed by the irradiation of methane. Such surface composition is typical for the Kuiper Belt objects - e.g. Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, Erida or Neptune's moon Triton. Because Sedna is likely similar in surface composition to classic Kuiper Belt objects but differs greatly from them in its orbit, there are various versions of the origin of this celestial body. One of the main theories, put forward by the discoverers, is that Sedna's orbit was modified by dynamical effects during the formation of the solar system in a dense star cluster. However, there are other versions of the mechanisms of the origin of Sedna - for example, its formation as a result of the passage at a distance of 52 thousand a.u. from the Sun of the Schulz star about 70 thousand years ago, or the capture of Sedna from interstellar space. This object will flyby Sun no more than on 74 au distance from it. Then it will fly out from heliosphere making it impossible to see this object at least for future 12 thousand years.


There are several perspectives that arise from this research on the flight trajectories to Sedna. Firstly, this study can provide valuable insights for future space mission planning to explore the outer reaches of the Solar System. Additionally, the proposed spacecraft trajectories could be used to explore other trans-Neptunian objects in the Kuiper Belt, which would expand our understanding of this distant and mysterious region of space. Moreover, the study's findings can advance our knowledge of the formation and evolution of the Solar System, as Sedna's orbit provides clues about its past interactions with other celestial bodies. The feasibility of exploring Sedna also opens the possibility of discovering new, undiscovered objects in the outer Solar System which can offer further insight into our cosmic origins. Lastly, this study demonstrates that gravity assist maneuvers can play a crucial role in reducing mission time and resource requirements, which could be critical in future space missions. In summary, this research presents exciting prospects for scientific exploration and insights into the formation and evolution of the Solar System, as well as advances in space mission planning technologies.

Mr Vladislav Zubko
Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI)

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This page is a summary of: The fastest routes of approach to dwarf planet Sedna for study its surface and composition at the close range, Acta Astronautica, March 2022, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.12.011.
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