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  • A comet nucleus sample return mission

    Paper ID



    • Stuart J. Kerridge
    • Angelo Atzei


    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology






    Comet nuclei comprise material that is believed to be representative of the early solar system nebula and, perhaps, of the interstellar clouds from which stars form. The space missions to P/Comet Halley, to be followed by the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby mission to P/Comet Tempel 2, have greatly extended our knowledge of these objects. To return an unmodified sample of a comet nucleus to Earth laboratories would enable a quantum leap in our understanding of our beginnings. NASA and ESA are each studying concepts for such an enterprise. Science requirements have been established by a Joint Science Working Group. Selected mission options have been studied utilizing all-chemical propulsion, solar electric propulsion, and a combination (hybrid) of the two. Reference missions have been picked, conceptual spacecraft designs generated and mass performance assessments made of a wide range of possible targets. All benefit greatly when some form of aerobraking is used at Earth return. Selected results are presented. Some possible methods for acquiring the nuclear sample are presented as well as some of the mission operations characteristics. Both agencies continue to study this mission, one that may unravel part of the mystery of the origin of life itself.