Castalia: a European mission to a main belt comet

Snodgrass, Colin and Castalia mission team, . (2013). Castalia: a European mission to a main belt comet. In: 45th Annual Meeting of the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences, 6-11 Oct 2013, Denver, CO.



Main Belt Comets (MBCs) are a newly identified population, with stable asteroid-like orbits in the outer main belt and a comet-like appearance. It is believed that they survived the age of the solar system in a dormant state and that their activity occurred only recently. Water ice is the only volatile expected to survive, and only when buried under an insulating surface. Excavation by impact could bring the water ice (closer) to the surface and trigger the start of MBC activity. The specific science goals of the Castalia mission are: 1. Characterize a new Solar System family, the MBCs, by in-situ investigation 2. Understand the physics of activity on MBCs 3. Directly detect water in the asteroid belt 4. Test if MBCs are a viable source for Earth’s water 5. Use MBCs as tracers of planetary system formation and evolution These goals can be achieved by a spacecraft designed to rendezvous with and orbit an MBC for some months, arriving before the active period begins for mapping before directly sampling the gas and dust released during the active phase. Given the low level of activity of MBCs, and the expectation that their activity comes from only a localized patch on the surface, the orbiting spacecraft will have to be able to maintain a very close orbit over extended periods - the Castalia plan envisages an orbiter capable of ‘hovering’ autonomously at distances of only a few km from the surface of the MBC. The straw-man instrument payload is made up of: - Visible and near-infrared spectral imager - Thermal infrared imager - Radio science - Dust impact detector - Dust composition analyzer - Neutral/ion mass spectrometer - Magnetometer - Plasma package In addition to this, the option of a surface science package is being considered. At the moment MBC 133P/Elst-Pizarro is the best-known target for such a mission. A design study for the Castalia mission has been carried out in partnership between the science team, DLR and OHB Systems. This study looked at possible missions to 133P with launch dates around 2025, and found that this (and other MBC targets as backups) are reachable with an ESA M-class type mission.

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