Science and Exploration

Interstellar Now! Missions to and Sample Returns from Nearby Interstellar Objects

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 19, 2020
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Interstellar Now! Missions to and Sample Returns from Nearby Interstellar Objects
Flyby mission scenario to 1I/‘Oumuamua with GA @ Jupiter and SO @ 6 radii

Two extrasolar objects, 1I/’Oumuamua, 2I/Borisov, have passed through our home system in just the last three years. Such interstellar objects provide a previously unforeseen chance to directly sample physical material from other stellar systems.
By analyzing these interlopers, we can acquire data and deduce information about their planetary system of origin, planetary formation, galactic evolution and possibly even molecular biosignatures or even clues about panspermia. In this paper, we show that missions to interstellar objects can be performed with existing or near-term technology, demonstrating that different categories of missions to different types of interstellar objects are feasible within the next decade.

We present three categories of missions: fast flybys, ideally combined with an impactor to sample the surface, rendezvous missions with orbiter or lander, and a fast flyby returning samples generated by high-velocity impactor(s). We present exemplary scenarios for these mission categories. A combination of Falcon Heavy or Space Launch System, chemical propulsion, and Parker Solar Probe-derived heatshield technology would be sufficient for fast flybys. For a rendezvous, solar electric propulsion would also be needed. For sample return, nuclear thermal propulsion would be required as well. The minimal suite of onboard instruments for answering questions about the origin of these objects is a camera and mass spectrometer.

Andreas M. Hein, T. Marshall Eubanks, Adam Hibberd, Dan Fries, Jean Schneider, Manasvi Lingam, Robert Kennedy, Nikolaos Perakis, Bernd Dachwald, Pierre Kervella

Comments: Mission Concept White Paper submitted to the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Space Physics (
Cite as: arXiv:2008.07647 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2008.07647v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Andreas M. Hein
[v1] Mon, 17 Aug 2020 22:10:58 UTC (790 KB)

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.