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A body of mass can keep a spacecraft in orbit, if the spacecraft is moving slow enough. If the velocity of the spacecraft is too high, it escapes. This limit is the escape velocity. Escape velocity depends on both distance and the mass of the body: $$v_e = \sqrt{\frac{2GM}{r}}$$ Where $G$ is the universal gravitational constant, $M$ is the mass of the ...


In 1986, Giotto closely approached Halley's comet flying through dust and gas and surviving with less damage than expected. I couldn't tell if Giotto was flying through Halley's tail or coma, but its journey can be taken as an upper bound of how harsh flying through the tail can get.


The International Cometary Explorer spacecraft passed through the plasma tail of 21P/Giacobini–Zinner in September, 1985, which I think was the first time the human race had engineered such a rendezvous. Many years ago, in my salad days, I did my PhD research on the encounter.


Ulysses, the shuttle-launched joint NASA/ESA probe to study the sun's polar regions, ran through three comet tails, more or less by chance. Ulysses Catches Record for Catching Comets by Their Tails ...comet Hyakutake ...On May 1, 1996, while Ulysses was cruising through space studying the solar wind, its data suddenly went wild for a few hours. The once-...


The two Vega probes comes to mind, ending their implausible sounding mission of slipping balloons into the atmosphere of Venus with a flyby of Halley's comet in 1986. They took a heavy beating flying through the coma, which is the shell of dust and gasses surrounding the comet itself, at the start of the tail. From a navigational point of view, the goal ...


Rosetta collected dust from 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and anylyzed it under an atomic force microscope, without landing on the cometary body itself; depending on your definitions this would seem to imply having flown through its tail. Navigation isn't much of an issue; you simply navigate close to the cometary body and hang out on the sunny side -- though I ...

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