Send a Lander to Pluto? It’s Definitely Crossed Alan Stern’s Mind

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LAUREL, Md. — Alan Stern,  the New Horizons principal investigator, made clear today that he has already given considerable thought about the kind of lander he would like to send to the Pluto system.

“I’ve been thinking about the next thing to do,” Stern told SpaceNews staff writer Dan Leone. Instead of sending another orbiter in one mission and a lander in another, Stern proposed designing one vehicle that can serve both roles.

Stern’s concept would combine the benefits of a lander and an orbiter. If a lander were placed on the Pluto-facing half of Charon, it would be able to continually observe the dwarf planet and its other moons. The lander might also be able to conduct experiments on Charon’s surface.

“So, it’s like a hyper orbiter if you put a lander on Charon,” Stern said.

Charon will get some attention from the New Horizons spacecraft as it flies through the Pluto system. The spacecraft will observe the moon to further understand its geology and its chemical composition.

But the “hyper orbiter” is far from becoming a reality. “I’ve just been thinking about it myself to be honest,” Stern said.