Friday, September 24, 2010
Project Swift, launched during the 1980s, was a joint effort between the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom to explore the sun and its vicinities. Because of mass limitations on spacecraft and the deep gravity well they would plunge into, the Swift missions are known as being some of the most roundabout probes ever launched, making several pass-bys of Earth and Venus before arriving inside of Mercury’s orbit. The missions added much information about how Earth’s nearest star works, along with the discovery of several Vulcanoids. The project was named after Edgar Swift, who was actually a Confederate astronomer who died in 1938, who claimed to have discovered a belt of asteroids inside of Mercury, the asteroid he discovered was named Vulcan.
Swift 1 (1981): The first of the Swift missions, reached an orbit of 0.2 Astronomical Units in 1989. Its mission was to investigate the solar neutrino problem. The probe operated until 1995, when it abruptly went off-line. It is believed Swift 1 was struck by a micrometeor.
Swift 2 (1990): Swift 2 actually focused on Mercury, and arrived at the planet in 1998. The probe entered polar orbit and began extensive mapping of the planet. A small lander was dropped into a deep crater at the north pole, in attempt to find water hidden in shadow.
Swift 3 (2005): Arrived in the vicinity of the claimed asteroid belt in 2015. Swift 3 confirmed the existence of Vulcan, a 201 kilometer wide asteroid that orbits only twenty million kilometers from the sun. Vulcan is tidally locked, as it turned out most vulcanoids would be. Swift 3 was knocked out in late 2016 by a coronal mass ejection, which came nowhere close to Earth.
Swift 4 (2020): Swift 4 was the largest and last mission to be launched. Along with solar observation instruments, it carried three impactor-landers. Due to fuel constraints, it was quite impossible at the time for sample return mission from the vulcanoids. One of the impactors landed on Vulcan and examined the regolith. A second landed on a fifty kilometer wide asteroid. The third was launched into the sun’s corona, taking samples and relaying data back to Earth until it finally melted and evaporated.