One of NASA's newest patents is about something laymen might not have thought was necessary—a map to the moon. But as the Observer reports, the newly patented route is designed for small, unmanned scientific missions. And it will not only save money, it will allow those missions to conserve fuel, leaving more room for cargo needed for scientific work. Instead of using a huge rocket to blast a direct route to the moon in a few days, the new course uses a series of slingshot maneuvers that take advantage of the Earth and moon's gravity for a fuel-sipping ride of two and a half months. The principle isn't new, but the new trajectory replaces one that takes six months. This isn't just hypothetical stuff: The route will be put into service with NASA's upcoming Dark Ages Polarimeter Pathfinder mission, or Dapper.
"This trajectory to the moon arose out of necessity, as these things often do," astrophysicist Jack Burns of the University of Colorado Boulder, leader of the Dapper mission, tells Business Insider. "We needed to keep the launch costs low and find a cheap way to get to the moon." The Dapper craft is only about the size of a microwave, and the budget for the mission is a relatively small $150 million. In step one, the spacecraft will hitch a ride to high-Earth orbit with a communications satellite mission, then go its own way via the new course. Ultimately, Dapper will conduct research from the far side of the moon. The focus will be on studying radio waves that could shed light on the origins of the universe, per Space.com, which did an earlier story on the Dapper project. (Read more NASA stories.)