The beginnings of the solar system are still far from being fully understood. The exploration of small bodies can provide valuable data to answer the many questions that remain unanswered. Of particular interest are objects that are entering our solar system for the first time, since they still have their original composition and have not changed as a result of coming close to the Sun. However, it is difficult to predict when such objects will appear and what path they will take. This means that once a pristine object has entered our solar system, there is not enough time to develop and launch a spacecraft in time.
A special mission
This makes Comet Interceptor a special mission: It is relatively likely that the object to be investigated has not yet been discovered when the mission is launched. For this reason, Comet Interceptor will first take up a waiting position at the Lagrange point L2. The spacecraft will remain in orbit around this point, which is about 1.5 million kilometres “behind” the Earth as seen from the Sun, until a suitable target presents itself. Limited by the fuel supplies carried, this phase can last up to four years. In the event that no suitable target can be identified within this time, Comet Interceptor will go to a secondary target.
In order to collect as much data as possible and to be able to carry out multi-point measurements even during flyby, Comet Interceptor consists of a main probe and two significantly smaller secondary probes. In addition, this configuration has the decisive advantage that it allows the main probe to maintain a safe distance from the target object and the dust particles surrounding it.
“Following the positive results of the study phase, OHB Italia is now more than ready to assume full responsibility for Comet Interceptor,” emphasises Roberto Aceti, CEO of OHB Italia. “We all know that the successful execution of the mission is a major challenge, but the expertise of OHB Italia and our industrial team is exactly what is needed to achieve this ambitious goal.”
Participation of other OHB companies
The structure and dust shield for Comet Interceptor’s main spacecraft are being realised by OHB System AG in Bremen. OHB Sweden is developing the propulsion system and the so-called AOGNC system with which the probe controls its position and trajectory.