(ORDO NEWS) — The European Space Agency plans to launch the Comet Interceptor mission. The main satellite will be located one and a half million kilometers from the Earth, where it will wait for the appearance of long-period comets that approach the Sun every few centuries.
Perhaps the satellite will be able to explore the celestial bodies that have flown to us from other planetary systems.
Comet Inceptor is the first mission that does not have any specific goal. The satellite will monitor space and wait. May he be lucky
The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved a new mission called the Comet Interceptor, which will wait for a guest from the far reaches of the solar system or even from another star.
The mission will launch in 2028 alongside the new Ariel Telescope, designed to study exoplanet atmospheres. Both will travel to the Lagrange point ( L2 ), a point of gravitational stability 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, where the James Webb Space Telescope operates.
The Comet Interceptor will remain in space while scientists on Earth search for a suitable target for it. It could be a comet from a vast region of icy objects called the Oort Cloud, far beyond the orbit of Neptune.
No mission has previously visited such a facility. Other missions, such as the ESA Rosetta spacecraft, have visited short-period comets that spend more time inside the solar system in close orbits.
Guests from afar
The mission will consist of a main spacecraft and two small probes, one of which will be developed by the Japan Space Agency (JAXA). The Comet Interceptor can wait at L2 for at least six years until a suitable target passes close enough to Earth’s orbit.
When this happens, the Comet Interceptor will turn on its engines. The main spacecraft will fly past the comet at a distance of about 1000 kilometers to avoid damage from cometary materials, and its probes will approach the comet within 400 kilometers.
The meeting will last only a few hours, but will provide insight into the material that formed at the dawn of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
“This is a message in a bottle from the formative period of our planetary system,” says Michael Kuppers of the ESA in Madrid, Comet Interceptor Project Scientist.
There is a more tempting possibility. Over the past five years, two objects that are believed to have arrived from other planetary systems have passed our Sun: Oumuamua in 2017 (we wrote about it many times) and Borisov’s comet in 2019 (we also talked about it ). If the Comet Interceptor was already in orbit, it might try to intercept them.
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