When New Horizons soared past Pluto just over two years ago, it revealed a strange world with glaciers of frozen nitrogen and mountains of packed water ice. Much of the features and processes that were uncovered by the probe were entirely unexpected by scientists, which is pretty impressive for a former planet that was downgraded to a “dwarf planet” in a decision that is still roiling the scientific community. Now, according to Spaceflight Insider, a group of scientists and engineers at the Global Aerospace Company are proposing a follow-up mission that would land on Pluto and then hop about its surface.

The Pluto hop skip and jumper

The way that the Pluto Lander would work is that it would use the dwarf planet’s tenuous atmosphere to decelerate from a velocity of 30,000 miles an hour to soft land on the surface. It would use a vast, football-sized inflatable “entrycraft” to catch the atmosphere around Pluto to slow the spacecraft down. At a certain point, the lander would separate and then land using a rocket engine.

The Pluto Lander would take readings at the landing site and then, in due course, fire up its engine and hop to a different location. The plan is for the lander to do this several times in order to examine a wide variety of Pluto landscapes. Some of the questions that the probe would seek to answer are what is the relationship between Pluto and both the Kuiper Belt objects and the planets of the solar system, outgassing caused by cryovolcanism, and whether or not Pluto has a subsurface ocean which many scientists believe it may have.

What happens next?

The engineers at GAC believe that their Pluto landing craft could be underway in a dozen years after it is approved. The transit time to the outer solar system will depend on a number of factors, including what propulsion technology is available at the time the probe would be launch. Also, the ”entrycraft” concept is new and will have to be tested, likely on a small scale using CubeSats launched from the International Space Station.

The mission would likely be classified as a “New Frontier” one, the same as New Horizons, now headed for a Kuiper Belt object, the current OSIRIS-REx mission currently en route to an asteroid and Juno, now in orbit around Jupiter. The proposal would have to compete with a comet sample return mission, a lunar South Pole probe, and an “ocean worlds” voyage to Enceladus and Titan, moons of Saturn among others. The development cost cap for a New Frontier mission is $1 billion.