The ESA has completed the preparations for the “Comet Interceptor” mission and now wants to look for a manufacturer for the comet probe. The probe is scheduled to launch in 2029 and fly to the L2 Lagrange point, ESA said. There she should then wait for a possible research target and head for a comet or an interstellar object like ‘Oumuamua. The mission will consist of a main probe and two small offshoots that will orbit the research object separately. To this end, ESA is cooperating with the Japanese space agency JAXA.
Particularly quick preparation
At ESA, the Comet Interceptor runs as an “F-class” (for “fast”/”fast”) mission, which takes about eight years to launch and weighs no more than 1,000 kilograms. The project was proposed in 2018 and accepted by ESA in June 2019. The probe is scheduled to start in 2029 together with the Ariel exoplanet probe. ESA is responsible for the main probe and one of the small companion probes, with JAXA contributing the second. Both build on their experience with comet and asteroid probes
Thanks to advances in ground-based telescopes, comets could now be detected about a year before they come closest to the Sun, ESA says. That’s still far too little time to possibly prepare, launch, and send a probe on an intercept course to explore such an object. That is why Comet Interceptor should wait in space and be sent on its way at relatively short notice.
Those responsible hope that their device could then explore a comet from the mysterious Oort Cloud at the outermost edge of the solar system. So far it has only been described theoretically, but every now and then we find the particularly untouched objects from there. Even more exciting would be a flight to an interstellar comet like 2I/Borisov or ʻOumuamua.
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