Exploring the Solar System

Exploring Asteroids and Comets

What was the Giotto mission?

The Giotto mission was launched by the European Space Agency on July 2, 1985, on an Ariane 1 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. With information from ICE, Suisei, Sakigake, Vega 1, and Vega 2, flight engineers were able to get Giotto within 370 miles (600 kilometers) of Comet Halley’s nucleus on March 13, 1986. Despite suffering damage from several impacts of cometary particles, Giotto was able to take spectacular close-up pictures, launching the serious interplanetary study of comets.

Giotto was not finished, though. In 1990 ESA flight controllers turned the spacecraft on again from its hibernation mode—the first successful spacecraft restart of its kind—after four years, and redirected it toward Comet Grigg-Skjellerup. It successfully made a flyby on July 10, 1992, coming within just 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the comet’s nucleus. Although it could take no pictures—its camera was damaged beyond repair during the Halley encounter—Giotto gathered other valuable data. It became the first spacecraft to fly by two cometary nuclei.


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