comet trails

The Interplanetary Meteoroid Environment for Exploration (IMEX) is an ESA-funded project run at the IRS, which involves development of a model for predicting the spacecraft impact hazard presented by dust grains in meteoroid streams. Most Jupiter-family comets have cometary trails, caused by dust released during that most recent passage of each comet near the Sun. The risk to spacecraft is a result of potentially high fluxes combined with high impact speeds (of up to 70-80 km/s) with respect to the spacecraft.

The IMEX model uses the orbits of known short period comets to define dust trails that develop through the emission of dust during each cometary apparition. The result is a large database of recently-released cometary grains, accessed through a series of tools that determine which streams intersect a given spacecraft trajectory or planet location. This is calculated using the Constellation distributed computing system ( This information can be used to evaluate the risk to the spacecraft, relative to the dust populations in the interplanetary background, and also to study meteor showers at Earth or other locations. Results of the model are exemplified by a model of the CG trail given in the video above.

We are now embarking on a new phase, to develop an improved model for spatial distributions and dynamical populations of interplanetary dust grains in the inner solar system (inwards of Jupiter). This model will consider particles of sizes 1μm – 1mm, and will be built by integrating the trajectories of particles from cometary and asteroidal source bodies for a duration of roughly 100 000 years, or until the particles are sufficiently dispersed under collisions, planetary perturbations, solar radiation forces, and orbital spreading. We expect the model to be a major improvement on existing meteoroid environment models. This model will also utilise the Constellation system.


the distributed ground station network:

The Distributed Ground Station Network is a system for tracking and communication with small satellites and other aerial vehicles. The concept includes a global network of small and cheap ground stations that track beacon signals sent by the satellite, plane or balloon.

The ground stations are located at ordinary people at home, so called citizen scientists, and are connected via the internet. A broadcasted beacon signal is received by at least 5 stations and can be used then for trilateration to obtain the position of the signal’s origin. For this each ground station correlates the received signal with the precise reception time, which is globally provided and synchronized by GPS.
This shall help small satellite provider and even Google’s Loon project to be able to track their vehicles fast, globally and simple!