to study the origin of comets, the relationship between cometary and interstellar material and its implications with regard to the origin of the solar system. The mission hopes to thoroughly characterize the nucleus with its ambitious lander; determine surface morphology and composition, chemical, mineralogical and isotopic compositions of volatiles and refractories in a cometary nucleus; and study cometary activity and the processes in the surface layer of the nucleus and the inner coma.

Deep Impact 2005


As shown in the lower color insert on page C-8, the Deep Impact mission craft flew close to comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, and launched a projectile into the comet. The 370-pound (820-kg) projectile struck the comet at six miles per second (10 km/sec), creating a brilliant flash, a plume of material, and a crater. In the days following the impact, the comet returned to its normal state. Scientists can now analyze the light from the flash and the shapes of the plume and crater to determine the composition and density of the comet.

Near-Earth Asteroid Prospector

(NEAP) Undetermined launch date Private Corporation

The Near-Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) is a spacecraft being built and operated by a private company, SpaceDev. The NEAP spacecraft will be a hexagonal prism with a mass of roughly 440 pounds (200 kg). Plans for a mission have not been finalized, but possibilities include a launch to the asteroid Nereus.

Dawn 2006


Dawn is designed to orbit the minor planets 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres.The objectives of the mission are to characterize their internal structures, densities, shapes, compositions, and masses and to return data on surface morphology, cratering, and magnetism.These measurements will help determine the thermal history, size of any cores, and the role of water in asteroid evolution.

New Horizons 2006


New Horizons is scheduled to launch in January 2006, swing past Jupiter for observations and a gravity boost in February 2007, and reach Pluto and Charon in July 2015.The spacecraft would then head deeper into the Kuiper belt to study one or more of the bodies in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune's orbit. New Horizons has many science partners, including the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Southwest Research Institute, Ball Aerospace Corporation, Stanford University, and NASA. The mission includes instrumentation for visible-wavelength surface mapping, infrared and ultraviolet imaging to study surface composition, and atmosphere, radiometry, and solar wind measurements. ♦ ♦ ♦

In the 15 years since the first space mission visited a small body, astonishing data have been gathered. Before these missions, scientists thought of asteroids as bare chunks of rock or metal, but the images and data returned show that most asteroids are deeply fragmented, have their own regolith, and even may have their own orbiting moons. Comets were thought to be loose agglomerations of ice and dust before spacecraft traveled close enough to take clear photos of the nuclei of Halley, Borrelly, and Wild 1, which showed dense, competent bodies with depressions resembling impact craters along with ridges and pinnacles. Future missions aim to return material from an asteroid to Earth, and from there the real detective work of linking meteorites to asteroids can continue in earnest.

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