Charlie Nichols was getting tired of the current argument.
“We need power,” Peterson said.
“Too much mass,” Walker shook his head, pointing at the fusion reactor.
“The fuel to mass ratio is the best we’re going to get for the size,” Nina said.
“But we’re talking about one of the largest vehicles we’ve ever sent out. To encompass a fusion reactor, we’re talking bigger than an Apollo module, and you want to send it out of the solar system,” Walker said.
“Obviously, Walker. That’s the point. But I want to know whether we go big or small.
“Big!” said Peterson, Nina, and Ed.
“Small!” said Walker, Jennifer, and Charlie.
“If we’re going to send this thing several light days out,” Peterson began, “we need ample power for its transmitters and sensors. We need lots of redundancies of both to get all the information we can about the nature of dark matter.”
“No!” Charlie stood up. Throughout this entire process, he had been the quiet one, but not anymore. “That’s beyond the scope. This isn’t something that we’re going to be able to detect conventionally. Hermes has advanced equipment, and picked up nothing. We need to go back to square one and do a simple test. We can get away with a small satellite with some passive instruments. We use an RTG for power.”
“There’s not a whole lot of plutonium left for a radioisotope thermoelectric generator,” Macomber said.
“I know, but we’re fighting the clock, here.”
“What do you mean?” Macomber said. Even Peterson looked confused.
Charlie used his slate to throw his navigation plan to the table’s holographic projector. “We’ve got three years to send it up. If we get it done in that time, we can make huge tour of the solar system, hitting Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune.”
“Another grand tour? We already have permanent satellites at Jupiter and Saturn. The best we’d get is Neptune. While it’d be nice to get something more, I don’t think it’s worth it.”
“I don’t care about the tour. I care about the speed. I think we do need to send up an Apollo-sized module, but just as a rocket stage. We need speed and gravity assists.”
Nina bent closer, looking at the estimated speed Charlie had put in. “Wow, that’s fast. How long to get to the edge of the solar system?”
“Three years at that speed, and if all the gravity assists go well.”
“Peterson, how long would yours take?”
“The travel time would be about five years.”
“Pushing a lot of mass,” Walker agreed.
“How long to build it?” Macomber asked
“Ten years, maybe?” Walker answered, and Peterson and Nina nodded.
“Okay, we’re doing both,” Macomber declared.
“Both?” Charlie said.
“Yes, both. We get your design out there quickly. That will be our proof of concept, and that this is not a one-time thing. If it’s successful, we’ll have a good start on the follow-up mission. Who knows, maybe by then that prototype gravity engine will be done, and we can shave more time off the follow-up’s flight.