The New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond has been one of the most successful #Space missions of all time. Naturally, some thought it being given to what kind of follow-up mission may be directed to the dwarf planet that used to be the ninth planet of the solar system. The Next Big Future describes one proposal that would send an orbiter and a lander to Pluto using an advanced propulsion system using fusion energy.

The fusion propulsion system is based on a technology called the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor now being developed by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

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The PFRC fusion reactor would burn deuterium and helium 3 and would provide both propulsion and power for the payload. Flight time to Pluto would be four to six years as opposed to the nine and a half years it took for New Horizons to voyage past Pluto. The probe could be launched by an existing Delta IV heavy lift rocket.

While helium 3 does not exist in nature on Earth, the nearest being on the moon, enough exists as a result of nuclear experiments to fly the mission.

New Horizons uncovered a world at the edge of the solar system that is stranger and more complicated than anyone had ever imagined. The dwarf planet features plains of nitrogen ice and mountains of concentrated water ice. It has a wispy atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Pluto even has weather of a sort in which, as the dwarf planet moves farther from the sun, the nitrogen in the atmosphere freezes as snow and falls on the surface, and as it moves closer to the sun it evaporates and rises as haze into the air.

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Pluto also may have a tectonic process and cryovolcanic activity. The nitrogen ice glaciers demonstrated gradual flows. Pluto also has a family of moons, including the relatively large Charon.

A Pluto orbiter-lander mission would not only test a fast propulsion system that could open up the solar system to further exploration but would also serve the dwarf planet much like Galileo did Jupiter and Cassini is currently doing Saturn. It could become one of the most exciting planetary missions of the 21st Century.