Madrid, 9 (European press)
Comet Interceptor will share a flight into space with ESA’s Exoplanet mission in 2029. The mission will build on the successes of the Rosetta and Giotto, ESA missions that have visited “short-range” comets. Although these missions have completely changed our understanding of comets, their targets have already orbited the Sun multiple times, and thus have changed dramatically since their inception.
Comet Interceptor aims to examine a comet that has spent a short time in the inner solar system, or may be visiting it for the first time. While the Rosetta target came from the rocky Kuiper belt just behind Neptune, the Comet Interceptor could originate from the Great Oort Cloud, a thousand times from the sun.
Although a different potential target is rare, it could be an ‘interstellar intruder’ from outside the solar system, something similar to ‘Oumuamua that flew unexpectedly across the sun in 2017. Studying such an object could provide an opportunity to explore How comet-like bodies form and evolve in other star systems.
Comet Interceptor was approved by the European Space Agency during the agency’s Science Program Committee meeting on June 8. The mission is led by the European Space Agency and supported by the Japan Space Agency (JAXA).
The Comet Interceptor will consist of a main spacecraft and two probes that orbit the comet to observe it from multiple angles. In this way, the innovative mission will build a 3D profile of its yet-to-be-discovered target. The European Space Agency is responsible for the main spacecraft and one of the probes, while JAXA is responsible for the second probe.
“A comet in its first orbit around the Sun will contain raw materials from the early solar system,” explains Michael Coopers, a comet interception scientist at the European Space Agency. “Studying such an object and sampling this material will help us understand not only more about comets, but also how the solar system formed and evolved over time.”