Press Release

OHB Italia and ESA sign contract for Comet Interceptor mission

Three probes to explore unknown comet and investigate the beginning of our solar system

Signature of the Comet Interceptor contract yesterday in Paris. © OHB Italia

Paris/Milan, 16 December 2022 - OHB Italia S.p.A, a subsidiary of the German technology and space group OHB SE, has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the prime contractor to implement the Comet Interceptor science mission. Yesterday, the corresponding contract was signed in Paris. The aim of the mission is to study a long-period comet to gain new insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system. In addition to OHB Italia S.p.A as prime contractor, OHB System AG and OHB Sweden are involved in the implementation of the mission as core team partners. The contract awarded to OHB Italia is worth EUR 117 million. The launch of the mission is scheduled for 2028.

The beginnings of the solar system are still far from being fully understood. The exploration of small bodies can provide valuable data to answer the many questions that remain unanswered. Of particular interest are objects that are entering our solar system for the first time, since they still have their original composition and have not changed as a result of coming close to the Sun. However, it is difficult to predict when such objects will appear and what path they will take. This means that once a pristine object has entered our solar system, there is not enough time to develop and launch a spacecraft in time.

A special mission

This makes Comet Interceptor a special mission: It is relatively likely that the object to be investigated has not yet been discovered when the mission is launched. For this reason, Comet Interceptor will first take up a waiting position at the Lagrange point L2. The spacecraft will remain in orbit around this point, which is about 1.5 million kilometres "behind" the Earth as seen from the Sun, until a suitable target presents itself. Limited by the fuel supplies carried, this phase can last up to four years. In the event that no suitable target can be identified within this time, Comet Interceptor will go to a secondary target.

In order to collect as much data as possible and to be able to carry out multi-point measurements even during flyby, Comet Interceptor consists of a main probe and two significantly smaller secondary probes. In addition, this configuration has the decisive advantage that it allows the main probe to maintain a safe distance from the target object and the dust particles surrounding it.

"Following the positive results of the study phase, OHB Italia is now more than ready to assume full responsibility for Comet Interceptor," emphasises Roberto Aceti, CEO of OHB Italia. "We all know that the successful execution of the mission is a major challenge, but the expertise of OHB Italia and our industrial team is exactly what is needed to achieve this ambitious goal."

Participation of other OHB companies

The structure and dust shield for Comet Interceptor's main spacecraft are being realised by OHB System AG in Bremen. OHB Sweden is developing the propulsion system and the so-called AOGNC system with which the probe controls its position and trajectory.

About OHB Italia

OHB Italia S.p.A. is one of the two major satellite systems integrators in Italy. Headquartered in Milan with branches in Rome and Benevento, OHB Italia S.p.A. employs more than 200 professionals with a high proportion of university graduates (78.5 %), most of which are trained in aerospace engineering and physics. The expertise of its employees and the experience of more than four decades make OHB Italia S.p.A. a national leader in the design and realisation of satellite systems, the development of electronics and mechanisms and the manufacturing of scientific instruments. OHB Italia S.p.A. is the prime contractor for major missions of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the European Space Agency (ESA) and other key players in the space market, with a particular focus on the export sector.

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