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All aboard the Pluto-Kuiper Express

PKEWith NASA/JPL’s Pluto Fast Flyby mission cancelled, a new mission is proposed by several scientists and engineers, including veterans of the Voyager program, to send a small spacecraft to Pluto. Originally named Pluto Express, and later Pluto-Kuiper Express, the unmanned spacecraft would be armed with a handful of scientific instruments (as opposed to Pluto Fast Flyby’s camera-only proposal). Plans call for launch via a Delta Heavy rocket or from the cargo bay of a Space Shuttle in 2004, a Jupiter gravity assist flyby in 2006, and a Pluto flyby in 2012. Though there are early talks with the Russian space program about including landers or penetrators, that element of the mission is dropped soon afterward.

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