Describing the requirements of a rendezvous mission with an interstellar visitor

Describing the requirements of a rendezvous mission with an interstellar visitor

Outlining the requirements for a rendezvous mission with an interstellar visitor LSST detection rate and intercept ∆v as a function of interstellar object size or dwell time. The dark regions correspond to q = 3.6 ± 0.5 and the light regions signify the 95% Poisson confidence intervals for the light regions. The gray dotted line corresponds to an ‘Oumuamua-like object, and the graph shows the results for an order of magnitude centered around ‘Oumuamua. Credit: arXiv (2022). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2211.02120

A team of researchers from Harvard University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Wellesley College have outlined the likely requirements for meeting the next interstellar visitor. Their article is published on the arXiv preprint server.

In 2017, an object appeared in the solar system that came from elsewhere in space. The object was the first interstellar object ever spotted traveling through the solar system. Known as ‘Oumuamua, the object was cigar-shaped and accelerated as yet unexplained as it left the solar system. Some have suggested that ‘Oumuamua may have been a space probe created by distant aliens. Others have suggested it was probably a fragment of a larger object.

In either case, observers began to debate whether space agencies such as NASA should make plans to study such an object should another appear. In this new effort, the researchers studied the circumstances surrounding the appearance and departure of ‘Oumuamua as well as those of other solar bodies such as asteroids or comets. They also looked at existing projects such as ESP’s Comet Interceptor. They then drew up a list of needs in the event of the development of a project to create a probe capable of intercepting an interstellar visitor.

The researchers started from the assumption that such a mission would be based on search and not on destruction. And that such research would involve taking photographs and using devices to learn more about the composition of such an object. Because of this, they note, a probe should be built with such capabilities. They further suggest that a spectrometer sensitive to the 0.4–2.5 µm wavelength range would be needed to distinguish between natural and artificially created materials.

The researchers also note that due to an unknown time constraint, it would make sense to station a probe in space rather than trying to launch something quickly, perhaps in the same region as the James Webb Telescope. . It should also have, among other abilities, maneuverability, they further note, allowing it to get closer to an object under study when needed.

More information:
Amir Siraj et al, Physical Considerations for an Intercept Mission to a 1I/’Oumuamua-like Interstellar Object, arXiv (2022). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2211.02120

Journal information:

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