Comet Interceptor: development of the main instrument's prototype starts in Tõravere

The Comet Interceptor Space Mission of the European Space Agency has reached phase A, which means the start of the development process of the mission hardware's first prototypes. This includes OPIC, or Optical Imager for Comets: the main instrument of the mission, which will be developed by the researchers of Tartu Observatory in Tõravere.

"The goal of preliminary prototypes is to understand what is important when building the real hardware, which parts are suitable, what the hardware is supposed to be able to do, and what is the actual capacity of the instruments," said Mihkel Pajusalu, Senior Research Fellow in Space Technology. Therefore, in phase A, the instruments are usually not made of materials suitable for space environment, nor do they have to have their final form and characteristics.

The first prototype that has approximately the same structure and capacity as the final instrument should be created in phase B. Such a model of OPIC is dated to be completed and tested in the summer of 2022. The prototype has to be able to demonstrate that the tasks put on the instrument can be accomplished.

Last week, a meeting was held at ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre of ESA to sum up the previous phase 0. The research and analyses carried out in phase 0 assured that the mission could be implemented with the planned set of instruments, including OPIC. Pajusalu and Senior Research Fellow in Space Technology Andris Slavinskis also attended the meeting to talk about the current stage of OPIC's development.

The Comet Interceptor is a European Space Agency's fast-class mission. The goal of the mission is to visit a pristine comet or another interstellar object that is only just starting its journey into the inner Solar System. The mission should launch in 2028. It is knowingly the first time for equipment built in Estonia to reach deep space, as well as the first time for Estonia to be an equal partner in all of the phases of a major ESA mission.

More information: Mihkel Pajusalu, Senior Research Fellow in Space Technology at the University of Tartu Tartu Observatory,, +372 5381 5711