Several scientists argue that astronauts should use Venus as a slingshot to get to Mars, claiming that a mission to the Red Planet would be faster and cheaper this way.
Given the layout of the Solar System, this idea may seem unreasonable, but there are a number of scientists and engineers who believe that a “stop” on the second planet in the Solar System can make life easier for astronauts and cosmonauts.
According to Noam Izenberg, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, a Venus flyby could make the mission to Mars faster and cheaper.
Izenberg and several scientists wrote an article in which they present this solution and its advantages. A pre-printed version of the article is available on Arxiv, and it has been submitted for peer review in the journal Acta Astronautica.
According to the article, using Venus as a slingshot is not only an option, but also an essential part of an eventual manned mission to the Red Planet.
“Venus is how you get to Mars,” said Kirby Runyon, a planetary geomorphologist at Johns Hopkins University, and co-author of the article.
Two ways to get to Mars
The simplest way is a joint mission, during which a spaceship flies between the two planets when they align in their orbits. After arriving on Martian soil, the astronauts would have to wait for the two planets to align again to return to Earth, and this period of time may take about a year and a half. This is the “classic mission”.
The second option consists of a mission in which a spaceship would pass by Venus, using the planet’s gravity to alter the course of the journey, before going to Mars. The same would apply to a return mission.
Using Venus’ gravity to reach Mars would dramatically reduce the amount of energy required for the mission, saving fuel and cargo and, consequently, the journey would be cheaper.
“It’s preferable to fly by Venus for a gravity assist on the way to Mars,” said Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at North Carolina State University in the United States and one of the article’s authors.
The classic mission, although it seems simpler at first, has few and specific windows of opportunity, since the orbits of Earth and Mars only align once every 26 months. In the mission proposed by the scientists, however, a spaceship could be launched every 19 months and would take less time to reach Mars.
“You greatly simplify the logistics of going to Mars, especially from the perspective of crew health,” Runyon said. “There’s science at two planets for much less than the price of two separate crewed missions,” Byrne added.