All About Space
‘Comet Interceptor’ to explore an undiscovered space object
A new mission will intercept an undiscovered comet en route to Earth's orbit, the first of its kind to observe a pristine interstellar object as it enters the inner Solar System.
Three spacecraft will take snapshots of the comet from different angles, creating a three-dimensional profile of the object and characterising its surface, composition, shape and structure.
The ‘Comet Interceptor’ was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) on 19
June as the latest ‘fast’ or F-class mission – in reference to its quick implementation. The mission's proposal was submitted to the ESA in
March, and it is scheduled to launch in 2028.
"Pristine or dynamically new comets are entirely uncharted," Günther Hasinger, ESA's director of science, said in a statement. "[They] make compelling targets for closerange spacecraft exploration to better understand the diversity and evolution of comets."
The mission is unique in that it will observe a comet that has not yet interacted with the solar wind environment – and it will launch before its target has been discovered. By observing the comet as it enters the
Solar System it can provide information on the evolution of comets as the object will likely contain material that has not yet been altered since the birth of the Solar System.