Large Constellations and Formations for Exploring Interstellar Objects and Long-Period Comets


Large Constellations and Formations for Exploring Interstellar Objects and Long-Period Comets

October 29 - November 2, 2018
California Institute of Technology - Pasadena, CA 91125


Team Leads

Julie Castillo-Rogez


Soon-Jo Chung


Karen Meech

University of Hawai’i


Workshop Overview:

This workshop will investigate the best strategies for exploring planetary objects with very long periods such as ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar visitor ever observed, and comets coming from the Oort cloud.  Long-period comets are the most primitive witnesses of the early solar system. Interstellar visitors are suggested to be extrasolar planet fragments ejected upon catastrophic collisions. Hence the scientific value of exploring these objects is unbounded.

The exploration of long period objects (LPOs) is challenging for many reasons:

  1. the orbital properties of these bodies are not known with enough lead time to develop a mission;
  2. they have a broad range of inclinations;
  3. the encounter velocities are in excess of 50 km/s, hence the encounters may be very short;
  4. LPOs may be outgassing or surrounded by debris. 

The premise of this study is that the challenges identified above may be addressed by flying a very large number of spacecraft in a coordinated manner.  Constellations, formations, and swarms of small spacecraft have been identified as game changers for enabling new space science. In recent times, there has been a tremendous development in regards to the technology maturation level achieved by smallsats.

This workshop will explore how smallsats, and in particular advanced distributed spacecraft architectures, can be used to address the many challenges intrinsic to small body encounters in excess of 50 km/s and enable wholesome science investigations over a short observation window. 

Soon-Jo Chung