In brief: NASA, SpaceX, and other American space organizations might be getting quite a bit of attention lately, but the European Space Agency has plenty of exciting projects up its sleeve as well. The agency’s latest mission will involve sending “three spacecraft” to observe a “pristine” comet that may enter our Solar System for the first time.
The three spacecraft will travel as one initially, collectively dubbed “Comet Interceptor.” As Interceptor approaches a comet (a target hasn’t been chosen yet), they will split off and perform a “flyby” of the object from multiple directions.
Theoretically, this should allow the spacecraft to observe the comet and create a 3D model of it, which can be examined in greater detail back on Earth. The ESA is particularly interested in any comets that might contain “unprocessed materials” that have managed to survive from the “dawn” of our Solar System many years ago.
“Comet Interceptor [will target] a comet visiting the inner Solar System for the first time – perhaps from the vast Oort cloud that is thought to surround the outer reaches of the Sun’s realm,”
“Comet Interceptor [will target] a comet visiting the inner Solar System for the first time – perhaps from the vast Oort cloud that is thought to surround the outer reaches of the Sun’s realm,” the ESA writes in their announcement.
The Comet Interceptor mission has been given a “fast” classification, meaning it has a higher priority than other space projects and will take place much sooner — the ESA expects to reach “launch readiness” in roughly eight years.
We’ll be keeping our eye on the project over time, and we’ll let you know if any new information comes to light. For now, feel free to read more about Comet Interceptor on its official website.