NASA Jet Propulsion Lab: Comet Hitchhiker

In August of 2014, NASA JPL scientist Masahiro Ono, PhD began collaborating with the Museum of Science Fiction about creating concept art depicting an alternative propulsion design using a passing comet to "hitch a ride" into deep space. The design development is part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

The idea involves using a carbon nanotube tether (CNT)  to "hitchhike" on to a comet as it flies by. The probe would essentially harpoon the comet attaching its tether to provide ~10 km/s ΔV and ~100 GJ of energy for ambitious deep space science missions. The tether could also be reeled out to apply a regenerative brake to give S/C a moderate (<5g) acceleration as well as to harvest energy. The harvested energy could also be used to re-accelerate and/or to drive high-powered instruments.

Museum concept artist Cornelius Dämmrich started working with NASA JPL in September 2014 to show how the system might look and function.

Cornelius Dämmrich is a concept artist living in Cologne, Germany working as a freelance artist creating environments with a combination of 3D graphic design and animation software. Cornelius received a Bachelor of Arts in Media Design from the MHMK College in Cologne and has won several awards—including the CGChoice Award.  His work is frequently published in popular books, journals, and magazines. Click here to see more of his work.

Masahiro Ono is a Research Technologist in the Robotic Controls and Estimation Group at NASA JPL. He is particularly interested in risk-sensitive planning/control that enables unmanned probes to reliably operate in highly uncertain environments. His technical expertise includes optimization, path planning, robust and optimal control, state estimation, and automated planning and scheduling. Dr. Ono holds a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics and has an MS in Technology and Policy and an MS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His BS is in Aeronautics and Astronautics from The University of Tokyo.

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