Past missions
Europe's comet chaser
The Rosetta mission

Researching comets – previous missions

Europe celebrated its first major success in cometary research back in 1986 with Giotto, which at the time flew past the famous Halley's Comet at a distance of 600 kilometres, transmitting the first images of the comet's nucleus back to Earth. Further missions to study comets have been conducted under the auspices of NASA since the Rosetta orbiter was launched in 2004.

The Stardust spacecraft flew past Comet Wild 2 in 2003, gathering particles of dust in its coma and bringing them back to Earth in a tiny landing capsule. The extended mission Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) investigated Comet Tempel 1 during a flyby in February 2011.

The successful Deep Impact orbiter travelled to this comet back in 2005. A copper projectile blew a crater into its surface, and the instruments on board the orbiter then analysed the cloud formed on impact. In 2010, Deep Impact moved on to investigate the Comet Hartley 2 as part of the project EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation).

Exploring the smaller objects found in the Solar System, comets in particular, holds particular interest in the world of science, as these celestial bodies may yield answers to two significant questions in research: what happened in the Solar System during the first millions of years of its existence, and where can the original building blocks of life be found?

Missions to comets

International Cometary Explorer (ICE) 12 August 1978 The first ever flyby of a comet. The NASA spacecraft was reactivated following its original mission under the name International Sun Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), travelling through the plasma tail of the Comet Giacobini-Zinner.
Vega 1 15 December 1984 Spacecraft continued past Halley's Comet on 6 March after Venus flyby
Vega 2 20 December 1984 Travelled past Halley's Comet on 9 March 1986 after Venus flyby
Sakigake 8 January 1985 Japanese mission (twin orbiter), travelled past Halley's Comet on 1 March 1986
Suisei 19 August 1985 Japanese mission (twin orbiter), travelled past Halley's Comet on 8 March 1986
Giotto 2 July 1985 Travelled past Halley's Comet on 13 March 1986; image of the comet's nucleus; travelled past Comet Grigg-Skjellerup on 10 July 1992
Galileo 18 October 1989 Images of several impacts by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter from 17-22 April 1994
Hubble Space Telescope 25 April 1990 Images featuring traces of several impacts by the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter
NEAR 17 February 1996 Travelled past Comet Hyakutake on its path to the asteroid 433 Eros
Deep Space 1 25 October 1998 Tested new technologies (ion propulsion) for use in space; performed flybys of the asteroid Braille and Comet Borrelly
Stardust 7 February 1999 Travelled past the Comet P/Wild 2, collecting dust samples and volatile substances from the coma; mapped the comet nucleus; returned the samples to Earth; extension of the mission as Stardust/NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) to Comet Tempel 1, the destination of the Deep Impact Mission.
Rosetta 2 March 2004 Orbiter and lander: to survey and map the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then to land on the comet's surface; arrival at the comet in 2014
Deep Impact 12 January 2005 Performed flyby of Comet Tempel 1; delivered a projectile to impact the nucleus; investigated the resulting crater; extension of the mission as EPOXI to investigate Comet Hartley 2


Last modified:
16/01/2014 11:00:28



Dr.rer.nat. Ekkehard Kührt
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Institute of Planetary Research, Asteroids and Comets

Tel.: +49 30 67055-514

Fax: +49 30 67055-340
Dr Stephan Ulamec
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC), Space Operations and Astronaut Training

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German Aerospace Center (DLR)

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