After Rosetta, Orleans LPC2E laboratory to attack comets, at the gates of the solar system

For some time, on the CNRS campus at Orleans La Source, on the premises of the Physics and Chemistry Laboratory of the Environment and Space (LPC2E), We are looking at the boundaries of the solar system.

The Orleans team took partHe was validated by the Comet Interceptor Mission, June 8, by the European Space Agency (ESA).. This is the next great discovery of the solar system. It brings together many European scientists, including a dozen French laboratories, involved in various aspects of the project.

The mission, as its name suggests, is quite good Stop a comet coming into the inner solar system for the first time, to collect its information.

Orleans’ LPC2E laboratory sends an electronic card to Mercury

Find a comet that hasn’t changed

“With the Rosetta Mission, We went to study a comet that had already been there for decades Inside the inner solar system. It revolves around the sun in seven years and we have seen that from one passage to another, it has aged rapidly, “explained Pierre Henry, a researcher at LPC2E.

So must “Find a comet that hasn’t changed since it passed through the inner solar system”Summary of space electronics research engineer Olivier Le Duff
In the Orleans laboratory. And for this reason, Restore this “primitive” object, almost pure, in short. A comet is probably coming from the Urt cloud, located at the edge of our solar system, which contains the remnants of its structure.

The automobile metaphor is not useless here, and Pierre Henry himself used it:

“We offered to do ESA Create a space probe, park it in the solar system, So that when such an object enters the solar system, we enter the intersection like a gendarmerie motorcycle on the highway. Honestly, By ourselves, we didn’t really believe it, it looked like science fiction!

So it would be science, period.

Learn about the structure of the solar system

Three probes, one large and two small, so will be sent to 8 1.5 million km from Earth before melting into a comet The boundaries of the solar system. Three, for Take a comet from different angles, “do a kind of 3D mapping”. On the main satellite, the mission will have one of the two French instruments, designed in Orleans, called the compliment.

This is a small weather stationWhich will measure density, plasma temperature (charged gas around the comet), electric field and small comet dust “, explains Pierre Henry, the scientific manager of the instrument. Working in different parts of two Swedish laboratories and a Belgian compliment.

HMI, for Hashemi. An electronic card of the device, which is manufactured in Orleans, is called HMI. A short form of high mutual impedance… but also a blink. Because it is pronounced Hachemi, like Tedjani Hachemi, one of the electronics technicians in the laboratory who are working on this card.

The data thus recovered “will give us additional information about the structure of the solar system”Olivia Le Duff, technical manager of the instrument summarizes.

If ever the mission was to cross the path with an interstellar object (Coming from a galaxy other than ours), much rarer, it would become a priority. Very unlikely, however: Pierre-Henry estimated the probability of experiencing such a gift from heaven to be “less than 1%”.

Ten years of preparation, three days of measurement

None of this admits wrong: once the comet is seen and the probes are close to it, The lion’s share of the matter will be over … a measure of two or three days, to fly.

“We won’t be able to put ourselves in orbit around the comet, it will move very fast, all we can do is pass the object.”

From now until 2029, the date of launch into space, a big step of concern for Orleans is the delivery of the instrument, which is scheduled for 2026. Until then, the prototype and test stages will follow each other in La Source Lab..

Once measured on a comet, several years of data processing and analysis will be expected. That’s it A mission for fifteen years. On a space scale, this is called a “short” mission.

Rosetta. LPC2E is not on its first space mission. He has already lent his skills to Rosetta in other explorations in recent years and in particular. Launched on March 2, 2004, the probe completed its space journey in September 2016. Its purpose was already to steal a comet, on which the lander (Filai) landed in November 2014. For Rosetta, LPC2E got special. His hands on two instruments, including Cosima, designed to analyze dust around the comet. The goal is to better understand the origin of the solar system already.

Dmitry Crozet

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