Considerations Regarding a Swarm Based Sample Return Mission to Centaur 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann

Leonard Vance, Jekan Thangavelautham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


Kuiper objects are small bodies of rock and ice largely orbiting the sun beyond the gravitational reach of Neptune. They contain materials, both volatile and refractory, which are condensed from the original protoplanetary disk and largely unchanged since the formation of the solar system. These materials are thus highly desired for the insights we could gain through isotopic ratio radioactive clock analysis (for example). Notably, Centaurs are believed to be Kuiper objects which have recently interacted with Neptune and been thrown into lower, ultimately unstable short term orbits. Being significantly closer to Earth, they are far easier to visit than Kuiper objects while presumably containing the same material. A sample return mission to a Centaur would therefore effectively allow us to gather primitive material from the edge of the solar system at a fraction of the expeceted costs. This paper discusses a possible sample return missions to Centaurs, including 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which resides in a low inclination, near circular orbit just outside Jupiter. This Centaur is also unique in that it erupts large amounts of dust and gas in irregular episodes, suggesting the possibility of a swarm based approach to harvest samples. A discussion of a mission architecture follows, with simulations of the dust environment and derivations of top level requirements. Results are presented including algorithm development governing the deployment of sample collection nanospacecraft, as well as their delta-V and power requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2023
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781665490320
StatePublished - 2023
Event2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2023 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 4 2023Mar 11 2023

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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