Comet Space Missions
Historic Comet Space Missions
- International Comet Explorer (ICE) (Nasa), formerly ISEE-3:
passed comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 (first comet flyby), distant
observations of 1P/Halley 1986.
ISEE-3/ICE information from NSSDC
(did you know this was once designated Explorer 59 ?);
ICE page (JPL Stardust server)
- The following probes passed Comet 1P/Halley in 1986:
- Suisei (Planet-A, Japan).
Later scheduled for flyby of comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner on
November 24, 1998, and with 55P/Tempel-Tuttle on February 28, 1998,
but hydracine fuel depletion on February 22, 1991 ended the mission.
Suisei info from NSSDC
- Sakigake (MS-T5, Japan).
Later used for Geotail passage. Preparations including Earth swingby on
January 8, 1992, June 13, 1993, and October 28, 1994 were made for a
fly-by of comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova on February 3, 1996, with
option for a remote passage of 21P/Giacobini-Zinner on November 29, 1998,
but contact was lost on November 15, 1995.
Sakigake info from NSSDC
- VeGa-1 (SU) (also passed Venus)
VeGa 1 info from NSSDC
- VeGa-2 (SU) (also passed Venus)
VeGa 2 info from NSSDC
- Giotto (ESA); also passed comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup 1992
Giotto info from NSSDC -
Comet Halley from Giotto;
Giotto page (JPL Stardust server)
- Deep Space 1 (Nasa):
Launched from Cape Canaveral on October 24, 1998 by a Delta-2 rocket;
this rocket also crried to orbit
SEDSAT-1, an experimental
science and technology satellite built by the
University of Alabama at Huntsville Chapter of SEDS.
DS1 was originally scheduled to be launched on July 1, 1998, to fly by comet
76P/West-Kohoutek-Ikemura in 2000 as well as Amor (Mars-crossing) asteroid
Due to launch delay, new targets had to be selected; see
press release for details:
Asteroid 9969 Braille (previously known as 1992 KD) was passed at a distance
of 15 km on July 29, 1999 at 04:45 UT,
comet 107P/Wilson-Harrington was encountered in January 2001, and
comet 19P/Borrelly was passed on September 22, 2001, 22:30UT at distance of
only 2,200 km.
Wilson-Harrington is of interest as it has ceased to behave like a comet and
now looks like an asteroid (was dubbed 1979VA), while Borelly is one of the
most active short-period comets.
DS-1 is part of Nasa's
New Millennium Program.
DS-1 info from NSSDC.
Stardust was successfully launched on February 7, 1999 21:04 UT (16:04 EST).
After an almost 5-year interplanetary cruise, the spacecraft succesfully flew
by the nucleus of Comet P/Wild 2 on January 2, 2004 about 19:45 UT (2:45p.m.
EST), and besides taking images and data of the comet's nucleus, collected
samples from the comet's coma. It returned to the vicinity of Earth, and
and deployed a reentry capsule on January 15, 2006 for touchdown in Utah.
During its cruise, Stardust passed and imaged asteroid 5535 Annefrank on
November 2, 2002, 4:50 UT at 3300 km.
In 2006, studies were initiated to use the Stardust spacecraft in an
extended mission called Stardust-NExT, to fly-by comet 9P/Tempel 1,
and investigate the artificial crater produced by the impactor of the
Deep Impact spacecraft; this rendezvous occured on February 14, 2011.
Stardust homepage (JPL);
Stardust info (NSSDC);
Stardust NExT announce
(Nasa HQ PR 06-342, October 30, 2006)
- Comet Nucleus Tour, Contour (Nasa):
Multiple encounters at comets: After launch on July 4, 2002, this craft had
been scheduled to encounter comet 2P/Encke in Nov 2003,
73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 in June 2006, 6P/d'Arrest in August 2008.
Unfortunately, the spacecraft was presumably lost when igniting its STAR 30
solid rocket engine on 15 August 2002 in order to leave Earth's orbit in a
Contour Project Homepage;
Contour info from NSSDC;
Contour page (JPL Stardust server)
- Rosetta (ESA):
Originally scheduled for launch in January 2003, this spacecraft was
to softland on comet 46P/Wirtanen in 2011 after one gravity assist flyby
at Mars and two at Earth, and after passing by two asteroids (4979 Otawara
and 140 Siwa).
Now, Rosetta was successfully launched on March 2, 2004 with an Ariane V G+
from Kourou, and soon after launch, deployed its solar panels. It is to
investigate Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It has now passed Earth for
gravity assist in March 2005, and flown by Mars on February 25, 2007.
Two further Earth gravity assist flybys have occurred in November 2007 and
November 2009. During interplanetary cruise, Rosetta was flying within
1,700 km of asteroid 2867 Steins on September 5, 2008, and within 3,000 km
of asteroid 21 Lutetia on July 10, 2010. It approached the comet in January
to May 2014 and went into a 100-km orbit on August 6, 2014, to start
in-situ mapping and investigations.
It is to deliver a lander, Philia, in November 2014. The comet will pass
its perihelion in August 2015, and Rosetta is intended to continue
investigating the comet until about December 2015.
Rosetta Homepage (ESA),
Rosetta Mars Swingby (ESA);
Rosetta info from NSSDC;
Philae info (NSSDC)
- Deep Impact (Nasa):
Successfully launched on January 12, 2005 by Delta II from Pad 17-B at Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.
After a successful interplanetary cruise, the spacecraft reached comet
9P/Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. The mother craft flew by the comet at 4,000 km,
and released an impactor of weight 370 kg, made of copper and aluminium,
which successfully crashed into the comet at about 10.2 km/s.
The flyby craft collected data of the impact and comet.
After the end of the primary mission in August 2005, the spacecraft was
selected for two subsequent discovery missions:
First, its high-resolution camera will be used to look for Earth-sized
planets around other stars within the Extrasolar Planet Observations and
Characterization (EPOCh) project, and second, it was scheduled to fly-by
comet 85P/Boethin in December 2008 within the Deep Impact eXtended
Investigation (DIXI) project. Unfortunately, that comet could not be
recovered in time, so a new target was selected: Comet 103P/Hartley 2.
Now named EPOXI, its trajectory was adjusted by a series of 5
further Earth flybys for gravity assist, namely on December 31, 2007,
on December 29, 2008, on June 29, 2009, on December 28, 2009, and finally
on June 27, 2010.
Eventually, it approached comet 103P/Hartley 2 for closest encounter on
November 4, 2010, investigations starting September 2010.
Deep Impact project homepage (U MD),
Deep Impact homepage (JPL),
Deep Impact info from NSSDC,
Deep Impact Impactor (DII) from NSSDC,
Images of the Impactor Impact on Comet 9P/Tempel 1;
Deep Impact eXtended Investigation (DIXI) and
Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh) announce
(Nasa HQ PR 06-342, October 30, 2006);
- New Horizons Pluto Kuiper Belt Flyby (Nasa):
Successfully be launched on January 9, 2006 by Atlas V 551 with Star 48B
third stage, this spacecraft passed within 101,867 km of main belt asteroid
JF56 on 13 June 2006, and passed by Jupiter for gravity assist on
February 28, 2007, on the occasion of which the Jupiter system was studied.
After this assist, the mission is on trajectory to Pluto and Charon, where it
should arrive nominally on July 14, 2015. It is scheduled to pass Pluto
within 10,000 km, Charon at 27,000 km, and produce a long-range 40-km mapping
as well as detailed high-resolution images of up to 25m resolution.
Before and after Pluto flyby, the spacecraft should encounter one or more
Centaur or Kuiper belt objects; it is hoped that the craft will work for
another 5 to 10 years.
New Horizons info from NSSDC
Scheduled Future Comet Missions
- Nasa's Comet Halley 1986 Mission
- CRAF (Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby), was to be launched 1995
and fly by comet 22P/Kopff in August 2000, after having passed by
asteroid Hamburga in June 1998. Was to be the first new-design Mariner
Mark II spacecraft.
CRAF info from NSSDC
- Deep Space 4, Champollion (Nasa):
Comet softlanding and sample return. Launch was scheduled for April 19, 2003,
arrival at comet 9P/Tempel 1 in 2005, sample return 2010.
Champollion / Deep Space 4 info from NSSDC
- Pluto-Kuiper Express: Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt,
to investigate the objects (comet nuclei) there ..
Pluto-Kuiper Express info (NSSDC)
Other Missions Doing Comet Research
These missions have primarily other objectives but are also used for comet
- Galileo: Observed comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact
- Ulysses: Comet studies included Shoemaker-Levy 9
astronomy satellites (including IRAS, Hubble Space Telescope, Rosat,
and several Space Shuttle Missions) were used to observe and/or discover
List of Comets Visited by Spacecraft
List of spacecraft visits:
Date Comet Mission Type
List of Comets visited by spacecraft:
1985 Sep 11 21P/Giacobini-Zinner ISEE 3/ICE fly-by
1986 Mar 6 1P/Halley Vega 1 fly-by
1986 Mar 8 1P/Halley Suisei fly-by
1986 Mar 9 1P/Halley Vega 2 fly-by
1986 Mar 11 1P/Halley Sakigake fly-by
1986 Mar 14 1P/Halley Giotto fly-by
1992 Jul 10 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup Giotto fly-by
2001 Jan 107P/Wilson-Harrington Deep Space 1 fly-by
2001 Sep 22 19P/Borelly Deep Space 1 fly-by
2004 Jan 2 81P/Wild 2 Stardust sample-return
2005 Jul 4 9P/Tempel 1 Deep Impact impact/fly-by
2010 Nov 4 103P/Hartley 2 EPOXI fly-by
2011 Feb 5 9P/Tempel 1 Stardust-NExT fly-by
2014 Aug 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Rosetta rendezvous/landing
1P/Halley 1986 Vega 1, Suisei, Vega 2, Sakigake, Giotto
9P/Tempel 1 2005 Deep Impact, 2011 Stardust-NExT
19P/Borelly 2001 Deep Space 1
21P/Giacobini-Zinner 1985 ISEE 3/ICE
26P/Grigg-Skjellerup 1992 Giotto
67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko 2014 Rosetta
81P/Wild 2 2004 Stardust
103P/Hartley 2 2010 EPOXI (Deep Impact)
107P/Wilson-Harrington 2001 Deep Space 1
Former candidate comets once considered for spacecraft visit;
2P/Encke 2003 Contour
6P/d'Arrest 2008 Contour
22P/Kopff 2000 CRAF
45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova 1996 Sakigake
46P/Wirtanen 2011 Rosetta
55P/Tempel-Tuttle 1998 Suisei
73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 2006 Contour
76P/West-Kohoutek-Ikemura 2000 Deep Space 1
85P/Boethin 2008 DIXI (Deep Impact)