Erika DeBenedictis is a high school student who wrote a prototype software system that would allow a spacecraft to autonomously calculate and fly low-energy orbits.
Erika is one of ten winners of the Intel Science contest who were at the Techonomy conference.
The Interplanetary Superhighway is based on a mathematical concept known as invariant manifolds (the tubes).
One may be able to travel large distances in the Interplanetary Superhighway without any propulsion. However, this may not always be the case. This is because the manifolds are actually in phase space which includes both position and velocity. Thus for true intersection to occur, the velocities must also match. Since the manifolds more frequently intersect in position space than in phase space, a change in velocity may be required. The energies required by the trajectories to travel on the Interplanetary Superhighway are typically cheaper propulsively than standard transfers. But this may require much longer time.
The full writeup is 22 megabytes and takes some time to download.
Erika has already been given a tour of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA engineers did show her the latest work on ion drives. Different kinds of ion drives can be matched to the composition of different asteroids. This would enable a vision of mostly autonomous robotic spacecraft using low energy orbits who could go to the asteroids and refuel themselves and mine asteroids for material for near earth colonies and projects.
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