Thousand Astronomical Unit (TAU) Mission

Description: This is what is known as an interstellar precursor mission propoposal, in that it doesn’t go to the stars but some distance in between. In this case it was to 1,000 AU powered by nuclear-electric engines. The project was ran by people associated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the 1980s. The basis of the design was only using technology that had been tested. The vehicle would accelerate for around 10 years in order to escape using 12 Xenon ion thrusters in combination with a 1MW nuclear reactor. It would reach a cruise velocity of around 100 km/s. The total science payload mass would have been around 1.2 tons. The small spacecraft at the front of the large high gain antenna was a Pluto orbiter, to be dropped off en-route.


Key References:

  • Nock, K.T, TAU – A Mission to a Thousand Astronomical Units, Presented at 19th AIAAIDGLR/JSASS International Electric Propulsion Conference, 1987.

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