Space boffins plot to send 11,000mph rocket ships to Mars without any brakes

Boffins want to send spaceships rocketing to Mars at 11,000mph… with no brakes.

European Space Agency chiefs are researching “aerocapture” that sees rockets set off without the fuel used to slow them down on arrival.

Instead the rockets will smack straight into the Martian atmosphere and use a parachute to reduce their speed.

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Previous missions like the Mars Express, which arrived on the red planet in 2003, had to carry a quarter of a tonne of fuel to slow it down which meant they were both slower and more expensive.

An ESA statement said: “We are venturing towards putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mars using a technique that engineers have studied for over half a century.”

The agency is now looking at ways to test the process including “piggybacking” a test craft onto a larger mission.

The ESA said: "This idea, known as 'aerocapture', is not a new one. It has been tempting engineers since the mid-1960s for two main reasons. Firstly, it would reduce the amount of propellant that the spacecraft needs to carry. Secondly, it would mean that we could choose to arrive at a planet with a higher speed, cutting cruise time.

"Aerocapture could enable small spacecraft to reach orbit, and in future be useful also for larger spacecraft in human exploration scenarios. While Mars is an attractive first destination for the application of aerocapture beyond Earth, the technique’s advantages are particularly apparent for ambitious scientific missions to worlds with atmospheres beyond Jupiter.

"But aerocapture has never been attempted, neither at Mars nor at other worlds. The idea has so far been perceived as too risky for its first use in a scientific mission, and sending a spacecraft to Mars with the sole aim of demonstrating aerocapture had been thought too expensive." That now looks set to change.

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