In fact, it is difficult to envisage any other method which allows widely spaced surface exploration of airless planetary bodies that is not prohibitively expensive.
Whilst the technology to achieve this is challenging, space qualified probes already exist, and the rapid pace of technology advance is likely to lead to significant improvements in microtisation and associated industrial spin-off.
Kinetic micro-penetrators are tiny probes which impact planetary bodies at high speed and bury themselves into the planetary surface.
We are aiming at probe masses of around 2 to 12Kg with an additional similar mass to decelerate and align the probe to survive impact at around 300m/s (equivalent to around mach 1 on Earth). Survival of these impact speeds has been demonstrated by ground tests of full up NASA DS2 and Japanese Lunar-A probes, and extensive military experience of impacts into materials mostly consisting of concrete or steel.
Because they are small this allows many probes to be deployed at wide spacings across the planetary surface. They also naturally provide redundancy so no mission is vulnerable to the loss of a single probe.
Whilst their small size does not allow a full complement of the most capable scientific instruments, they are ideal to perform focused investigations across widely space surfaces of the body not currently feasible with soft landers and rovers.
For example :-
There are several reasons why the use of micro-penetrators should be relatively inexpensive :-
Major costs are likely to be :-
Additional cost benefits are also envisaged, since technology developed for airless micro-penetrators are likely to benefit other lander and orbital missions for which robustness and very low mass are always advantageous. Also, only small additional developments would be required to extend this capability to exploration to planetary bodies having atmospheres.
Though, as yet there has been no successful deployment of a high speed penetrator, and the only deployment, DS2(Deep Space-2) failed along with its companion lander, there is actually no evidence that these are inherently less reliable than soft landers.
However, this is not to say the challenge is small.
This currently consists of the following UK organisations :-
and international partners :-
...and we welcome additional national & international participation.
1st February 2011, Rob Gowen. email@example.com
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