ESA Science & Technology05-Jul-2005 16:42:59

Background Science

Current and Future Missions to Study Comets


Launch 7 February 1999: Stardust


Stardust is a NASA Discovery mission. It will travel into the coma - the cloud of ice and dust that surrounds the nucleus of Comet Wild-2 - coming to within 150 km of the nucleus itself on 2 January 2004. There, it will gather comet dust particles and deliver them back to Earth. En route to the comet, Stardust will attempt to capture interstellar particles that are believed to have entered our Solar System. The mission is scheduled to end in January 2006, when the Stardust sample return capsule will return to Earth and parachute to a designated landing spot in the Utah desert.

Launch 2 March 2004: Rosetta


Rosetta is an ESA cornerstone mission that was originally scheduled for launch in 2003. It will study the nucleus of a comet and its environment in great detail. The prime scientific objective of the Rosetta mission is to study the origin of comets, the relationship between cometary and interstellar material and its implications with regard to the origin of the Solar System. The Rosetta lander will land on the comet nucleus and will focus on the in situ study of the composition and structure of the nucleus material.

Launch January 2005: Deep Impact

Deep Impact

Deep Impact is a NASA Discovery mission to Comet Tempel 1. It consists of two craft that will separate when the comet is reached. The main spacecraft is an instrument platform that will fly slowly by the comet and record visual images and infrared spectral mapping data of the comet. The second craft is the 350 kg copper 'impactor', which will separate from the flyby craft and be propelled into a target site on the sunlit side of the comet on 4 July 2005. It will crash into the sunny side of the comet's nucleus at 10 km per second, creating a crater which is 120 m across and 25 m deep. This will be the first time any man-made object has impacted with a comet. Cameras and other instruments on the flyby craft and back on Earth will study the new crater and ejected material created by the impact.

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