Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON): Will NASA (& Other Agencies) Schedule Spacecraft Encounters?
. by Anura Guruge
When 1P/Halley last came around in 1986, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russians in partnership with France and the Japanese sent aloft a total of 5 spacecraft to ‘meet-and-greet’ the comet — at varying distances and with different mission objectives. This fleet of 5 came to be known as the ‘Halley Armada‘ and consisted of: Gitto, Vega 1, Vega 2, Suisei & Sakigake.
Of course NASA was not going to miss the ‘party’ but the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger disaster intervened.
As far as I know NASA nor any of the other agencies have made official statements as to whether they intend to plan close quarter encounters with Comet ISON, C/2012 S1. My druthers is that there will be at least one attempt to get within at least a few thousand miles of it, if not closer.
NASA has a number of potential comet & asteroid oriented spacecraft out in heliocentric orbits right now, including Deep Impact/EPOXI (which has already imaged ISON, albeit from far, far away), NExT (the old ‘Stardust‘), NEAR and good ol’ Dawn heading for its tryst with dwarf planet Ceres. Depending on relative orbital paths any one of these could be repurposed to intercept ISON.
As far as I recall Deep Impact/EPOXI, if not NExT/Stardust, still has a bit of propellant left — which could be used to get it in place for an intercept, possibly with a bit of ‘gravity assist’ from Earth.
Though the additional cost of such an ISON mission will be minimal (or even negligible in the overall NASA budget), NASA, I think, still has to get U.S. Congressional approval before they can announce such an endeavor. Despite the sequestration and budget constraints I have a hunch that NASA will try and get some funds. So stay tuned and remember who told you about this to begin with.