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How to Harpoon a Comet

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Dave Palmer
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Re: Repurposing the Probe
Dave Palmer   9/15/2014 12:43:19 PM
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@Greg: Yes, I thought this was the most impressive part of the story, too.  Timing is everything with space launches; if you miss a launch date, you may not have another window for several years.  For example, the Mars Expoloration Rover Curiosity was delayed for two years, due to the hardware not being qualified in time for the original launch date.  (I wrote about this in a previous Design News article).

But at least Mars has an orbital period of 687 days.  Comets often have orbital periods of decades or centuries.  In fact, comets with orbital periods of less than 200 years are considered "short-period comets."

In this case, both 46P/Wirtanen and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimienko have relatively short periods (5.4 and 6.5 years, respectively).  However, since their periods are not integer numbers of years, their orbits don't line up with Earth's very cleanly.

Battar
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Re: How to Harpoon a Comet
Battar   9/15/2014 9:11:40 AM
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Dave,

        This is why the risk/benefit calculations for a manned mission to Mars don't give pretty answers - and why such a mission is probably never going to happen.

Greg M. Jung
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Repurposing the Probe
Greg M. Jung   9/14/2014 12:11:59 PM
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One of the more impressive items mentioned in the article was how the probe had to be redirected to a new comet that was much different than the orginal comet.  Since the probe hardware could not be redesigned, the team had to be very creative at coming up with new methods to make the existing spacecraft software complete the mission.  I'm sure many long hours were spent on new program instructions and the simulations needed to model these new behavior characteristics.

Cadman-LT
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Re: How to Harpoon a Comet
Cadman-LT   9/13/2014 2:10:36 PM
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This will be a major feat if successful. I am just glad to see people try. Didn't NASA just give up? lol

Dave Palmer
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Re: How to Harpoon a Comet
Dave Palmer   9/12/2014 5:46:49 PM
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@Cabe: Mars missions are notorious for their bad luck.  About two-thirds of all Mars missions have ended in failure; this is known as the "Mars curse." In spite of the high-profile failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, NASA has had much better luck with Mars than Russia has. (If the Soviet Phobos probes had been successful, they would have been extremely cool).

In contrast, comet missions to date have been extremely successful (although, until now, nobody has actually tried to land on a comet).  The only exception was the CONTOUR probe, which was lost while leaving Earth orbit in 2002.

Cabe Atwell
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How to Harpoon a Comet
Cabe Atwell   9/12/2014 4:33:28 PM
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Considering NASA lost their Polar Lander and Climate Orbiter for a Mars excursion, I'd say this is quite a feat!

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