Cranfield’s space team  part of ESA’s Comet  Interceptor mission Image: Cranfield University

Uni students will be involved in some of the support work

Cranfield’s University’s Centre for Autonomous and Cyberphysical Systems is part of ESA’s (European Space Agency) recently announced Comet Interceptor mission.

The Comet Interceptor is an F-Class or fast-class mission, named for the speed of the implementation of the programme. It is planned to be launched in 2028 to fly-by an outer solar system comet.

The Cranfield space team’s task over the next six to twelve months will be to develop the trajectory models for the mission and provide information on the craft design, working with the ESA development team.

Students will be involved in some of the support work at Cranfield and this has already lead to one student group design project.

Dr Joan Pau Sanchez Cuartielles, who is leading the University’s project, said:

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to be part of the mission. For the first time we will have the chance to observe an unaltered object that survives from the birth of the solar system.

“Cranfield’s contribution is critical to the success of the mission.”

By exploring comets, scientists can learn about the origins of the solar system, a so-called ‘dynamically new comet’ is just beginning its journey through the Inner solar system.

A true, pristine comet has yet to be encountered and explored. Previously, comets that have been encountered by spacecraft are short-period comets having already approached the Sun and therefore undergone changes on their surfaces, hiding their original appearance and make-up.

The mission will provide the opportunity to view the comet in its unchanged state.

This is not the first time Cranfield has been involved with ESA missions. Last year, ESEO, an ESA educational satellite, featured technology and experiments from ten European universities, including Cranfield.

Cranfield students designed and built a De-Orbiting Mechanism, to deploy a drag sail at the end of the satellite mission.

This technology increases the ESEO’s atmospheric drag, so reducing the time to re-entry and ensuring the satellite does not contribute to accumulating space debris in low Earth orbit.