SETI [ASTRO] ESA's Rosetta Comet Chaser Unveiled In London

Larry Klaes (
Thu, 01 Jul 1999 15:39:40 -0400

>X-Authentication-Warning: majordom set sender to owner-astro using -f >Date: Thu, 1 Jul 1999 15:24:45 GMT >From: Ron Baalke <> >To: >Subject: [ASTRO] ESA's Rosetta Comet Chaser Unveiled In London >Sender: >Reply-To: Ron Baalke <> > > >ESA Science News > > >01 Jul 1999 > >ESA's Rosetta comet chaser unveiled in London > >The final design of the European Space Agency's Rosetta comet chaser >was revealed today at the Royal Society in London when a 1:4 scale (7.1m >diameter) model of the giant spacecraft was unveiled by ESA's Science >Director, Professor Roger Bonnet. > >The ceremonial unveiling was also witnessed by representatives of the >Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), which funds >the UK contribution to the Rosetta mission, members of the media, and >more than 100 scientists and engineers from around the world. > >"The expertise of European scientists in cometary exploration has been >absolutely outstanding, from the early days of astronomy with Halley >and Newton, through to Ludwig Biermann who discovered and explored >the solar system and its interaction with comet tails." said Prof. Bonnet. >"Then Giotto flew to Halley's Comet 13 years ago. Now we have Rosetta, >which builds on this experience." > >The Rosetta Spacecraft > >The mission involves two spacecraft -- a 3 tonne orbiter, which will >fly alongside Comet Wirtanen's icy nucleus, and a small lander, which >will touch down on the nucleus itself. The Rosetta orbiter will carry >12 scientific experiments, with a further nine on the lander. > >A 1:4 scale model was chosen for today's unveiling because of the >impossibility of finding a venue large enough to contain the full-size >version. The flight model of the Rosetta Orbiter spacecraft is 32 metres >across, so large that it would stretch the entire width of a football >pitch. Since Rosetta will have to operate more than 720 million km >(450 million miles) from the Sun, where light levels are only 4% of >those on the Earth, it has to carry giant solar panels to provide >electrical power in the dark depths of the Solar System. > >One of the main themes of the event was the importance of Rosetta >as a Cornerstone mission in ESA's Horizons 2000 science programme. >"Rosetta is a flagship mission for European solar system exploration. >It is one of four missions that will land on a foreign body in the first >10 years of the next century. ESA spacecraft will lead the way with >landings on Mercury, Saturn's moon Titan, and even on a comet", said >Prof. Bonnet. > >Speakers also explained that, apart from its scientific importance, >Rosetta is also a significant source of technological innovations which >can be used for other missions such as Mars Express. This enables ESA >to make efficient use of resources and reduce development costs for >other science projects. > >"Rosetta will be a tremendous technological challenge," said Project >Manager Bruno Gardini. "We have less than four years to build the >largest, most sophisticated spacecraft ever to visit a comet." > >"There are many challenges ahead," he added. "Rosetta will have to >survive a hazardous eight year trek across 5.25 billion km of space. >It will then have to rendezvous with a comet which is travelling >towards the Sun at over 130,000 km per hour. After releasing a lander >onto its tiny nucleus, it will have to fly alongside the comet as it >swoops towards the Sun." > >The Rosetta Mission > >Although ESA's Giotto spacecraft flew past two comets in 1986 and >1990, many questions remain unanswered. Rosetta is designed to >unravel the mysteries surrounding these primitive objects. > >"Space exploration is all about discovering the unknown," commented >Rosetta Project Scientist, Dr. Gerhard Schwehm. "Just as, 200 years >ago, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone eventually enabled Champollion >to unravel the mysteries of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, so Rosetta >will help scientists to unravel the mysteries of comets." > >Dr. Schwehm went on to explain that comets are among the oldest, >and least altered, objects in the Solar System. They are thought to >have existed, almost unchanged, for the last 4.5 billion years, and are >regarded as the building blocks from which the planets formed. > >Comets are also important sources of information for scientists >studying how our planet evolved and life began. One theory suggests >that a comet collision wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. >Such impacts were much more frequent when the Earth was young. It >seems that comets arrived in such vast numbers that they may have >delivered a significant fraction of the water in our oceans. Furthermore, >some scientists believe that the organic (carbon-based) molecules found >in comets were the 'seeds' from which life evolved on Earth 4 billion >years ago. > >Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen's University, Belfast, commented, >"Through PPARC, the UK is funding the Open University's MODULUS >instrument on board Rosetta and also supporting the Plasma Science >Package. This will allow European scientists to decipher the physics >and chemistry of comets in unprecedented detail, and ensures that >the UK plays a key role in this exciting mission." > >Rosetta and the British Museum > >ESA's comet chasing spacecraft is named after the Rosetta Stone, >one of the most famous exhibits at the British Museum. Starting on >10 July, the Rosetta Stone will be the centrepiece of the Museum's >exciting new 'Cracking Codes' exhibition. Hundreds of thousands of >visitors from around the world are expected to flock to this exhibition >during the next six months. Models of the Rosetta Orbiter and Lander >will be on display throughout the event. > >"The Rosetta Stone has been described as the most famous piece >of rock in the world, and is one of the most visited objects in the >British Museum," said Dr. Richard Parkinson of the Museum's >Department of Egyptian Antiquities. "This month marks the 200th >anniversary of its discovery by Napoleon's troops at Rosetta in Egypt. >The Museum is celebrating the event with a revolutionary redisplay of >the newly conserved stone, and a special exhibition, entitled `Cracking >Codes', to show the full impact of the Stone on our understanding of >the past." > >"The use of the stone for decipherment of Ancient Egyptian was not a >single event but a continuing process of scientific investigation. This >is why we are particularly delighted to be able to include a model of >the Rosetta space probe to show how decipherment is very much to do >with the future and not just with the past," he added. > >The Return of Giotto > >Today's press briefing coincided with the London meeting of the Rosetta >Science Working Team and the second Earth flyby of ESA's remarkable >Giotto comet probe. Giotto's brief homecoming took place almost 14 >years to the day since its launch on 2 July 1985 and five years after >its previous return to Earth's vicinity on 2 July 1990. > >Despite a peppering from dust particles travelling faster than bullets, >Giotto survived its encounter with Comet Halley to return the first >detailed, close-up pictures of a comet nucleus. Six years later, the >remarkably robust spacecraft made history once more when it visited >a second comet. > >During today's flyby, the now deactivated spacecraft swept to within >220,000 km of the planet (just over half the Earth-Moon distance). >Travelling at a speed of about 3.5 km/s, Giotto's trajectory took it >over the South Pole and southern South America before it headed once >more into deep space. > >"Giotto paved the way for Rosetta," said Gerhard Schwehm. "It was the >Agency's first planetary mission and was a tremendous success, both >technically and scientifically. It provided a wealth of scientific results >and gave scientists the unique chance to study two different comets >with the same set of instruments." > >USEFUL LINKS FOR THIS STORY > >More about Giotto > > >British Museum exhibitions > > >[NOTE: Images supporting this story are available at >] > >

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