ESA F-Class Comet Interceptor: Trajectory Design to Intercept a Yet-to-be-discovered Comet.

Joan Pau Sanchez*, David Morante, Pablo Hermosin, Daniel Ranuschio, Alvaro Estalella, Dayana Viera, Simone Centuori, Geraint Jones, Colin Snodgrass, Anny Chantal Levasseur-Regourd, Cecilia Tubiana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Comet Interceptor (Comet-I) was selected in June 2019 as the first ESA F-Class mission. In 2029+, Comet-I will hitch a ride to a Sun-Earth L2 quasi-halo orbit, as a co-passenger of ESA's M4 ARIEL mission. It will then remain idle at the L2 point until the right departure conditions are met to intercept a yet-to-be-discovered long period comet (or interstellar body). The fact that Comet-I target is thus unidentified becomes a key aspect of the trajectory and mission design. The paper first analyses the long period comet population and concludes that 2 to 3 feasible targets a year should be expected. Yet, Comet-I will only be able to access some of these, depending mostly on the angular distance between the Earth and the closest nodal point to the Earth's orbit radius. A preliminary analysis of the transfer trajectories has been performed to assess the trade-off between the accessible region and the transfer time for a given spacecraft design, including a fully chemical, a fully electric and a hybrid propulsion system. The different Earth escape options also play a paramount role to enhance Comet-I capability to reach possible long period comet targets. Particularly, Earth-leading intercept configurations have the potential to benefit the most from lunar swing-by departures. Finally, a preliminary Monte Carlo analysis shows that Comet-I has a 95–99% likelihood of successfully visit a pristine newly-discovered long period comet in less than 6 years of mission timespan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-277
Number of pages13
JournalActa astronautica
Early online date16 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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