NASA launched two lander modules for the search for the comet Bennu in mid-August, and it plans to fly them in mid to late September, according to a NASA blog post.
The lander mission is part of a larger program called Science Mission Directorate’s Asteroid Initiative to identify potentially hazardous asteroids and comets.
The goal is to collect samples and send them back to Earth for analysis.
A second spacecraft will follow later this year.
“This program will give us a great opportunity to learn more about the composition and structure of the asteroid and how it formed and how the environment around it evolved,” said J. Michael Cole, a senior associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.NASA is also sending a robotic spacecraft to the comet to gather samples and prepare for eventual return to Earth.
The spacecraft, called Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, will fly to the surface of the comet sometime in the summer of 2021, and then head for the surface in late 2019.
The agency will also use the probe to search for comets in the Kuiper Belt, which lies just outside the solar system and is home to several icy bodies.