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Comet mission given green light by European Space Agency

21 Jun 2019, 12:14 UTC
Comet mission given green light by European Space Agency
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The European Space Agency (ESA) is to launch a probe to visit a comet originating from the outer solar system. The €150m Comet Interceptor spacecraft, proposed by a team led by UK-based researchers, will launch in 2028. It will be the space agency’s first so-called “fast” or F-class mission, which take under a decade from selection to launch and weigh less than 1000 kg.
The mission will take off together with ESA’s Ariel satellite, which will scrutinise the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. Once in space, the Comet Interceptor will travel to the L2 Lagrange point– a gravitational-balance point over a million kilometres beyond the Moon’s orbit – where it will lie in waiting for its quarry: a comet on its first dive in from the very farthest reaches of our planetary neighbourhood.
Unusually for a space mission, however, Comet Interceptor does not yet have a target in its sights. But by being placed at the L2 point it can wait, for several years if need be, until the right comet is spotted on an inward trajectory. Once an object has been selected, the Comet Interceptor will observe the comet using a collection of cameras and mass spectrometers mounted on three ...

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