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New Horizons probe has found astonishing features on Pluto, while the likelihood of making even greater discoveries is remote in further space. Is it possible for New Horizons probe to turn back and start orbiting Pluto? It may save much time and resources as compared to sending another probe to Pluto. Thanks for your responses.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a question better suited to "space exploration" than "astronomy". $\endgroup$ – James K Sep 1 '17 at 21:08
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A Pluto orbiter would have been possible, but then the entire mission would have to be designed around that. New Horizons was designed as a small fast probe that could reach Pluto relatively quickly (almost 10 years), but not be able to stop there. An orbiter would have to take a lot more fuel with it, and approach Pluto slower. Such a mission would therefore take a lot longer to reach Pluto, i.e. it could easily take double the time or more, and would be more expensive.

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No, unfortunately this is not possible. To get back to Pluto, it has to reduce its speed. Even more then it is currently flying (because it has passed Pluto already). Because New Horizon is flying at a speed of approximately 13,8 km/s, it has to use massive amounts of fuel/energy to get a full stop and fly back. Let alone having enough fuel to maneuver into a stable orbit.

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  • $\begingroup$ You could add what the escape speed of Pluto is from the smallest possible orbit. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Oct 16 '15 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ The probe does not really has to stop and reverse. It has to sway to the side in the direction of orbiting Pluto to reach it. But obviously it depends on how much fuel is there. $\endgroup$ – rnso Oct 16 '15 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ No, not really. Pluto is almost right behind New Horizon. Let's say Pluto only moves a small part of its orbit during the new approach of New Horizon. This is still nearly behind the current position of New Horizon. The velocity can be seperated in a x,y,and z direction, totalling to the current velocity vector. If New Horizon has to travel back (with or without a sway) the velocity in direction to the sun (let's say vector x) has still be completely turned from 13,8 km/s to minus-something km/s. The only difference now is an small velocity in for instance the y-direction. Totalling in a sway. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Oomen Oct 16 '15 at 12:29

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