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Rosetta comet chaser picks up speed

Published by Matt on Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:18 am via: source
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The Rosetta comet chaser is making one last visit home to Earth: On 13 November, the probe, which was built for the European Space Agency (ESA) by Astrium, Europe’s leading space technology company, will perform its fourth and last planetary swingby manoeuvre, utilising the Earth’s gravitational force to boost its speed for the long journey out to comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Earth swingby to "catapult" space vehicle into outer Solar System. Credit: ESA

Earth swingby to "catapult" space vehicle into outer Solar System. Credit: ESA

At 08:45 CET, Rosetta will streak past Earth just south of the Indonesian island of Java, passing within 2,500 kilometres of the planet and in the process being accelerated by almost 13,000 km/h to a speed of approximately 61,000 km/h. By then, the scientific spacecraft will have travelled 4.5 billion kilometres since its launch on 2 March 2004. Its next scientific target is asteroid 21-Lutetia, which it will reach on 10 July next year. After that, the comet chaser will be put into hibernation for a lengthy period of time (from July 2011 to January 2014). Once reawakened, it will travel on to its final target, comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with which it will rendezvous in May 2014. From start to finish, its journey will have taken 10 years and covered more than six billion kilometres.

Once the probe has reached its destination, it will release the tiny, very complex Philae lander onto the comet’s surface from a distance of around 1 kilometre. Equipped with a miniature chemical laboratory and a plethora of highly-developed measuring devices, Philae’s instruments will examine the surface of the comet and deliver information about its core. After that, Rosetta will spend a year examining the comet closely while escorting it on its 135,000 km/h trajectory towards the Sun.

For planetary scientists, the Rosetta mission is like a journey back in time to the very origins of the Solar System. In contrast to planets, where tectonics and erosion have constantly altered the rocks, the material inside comets has remained unchanged since their birth around 4.6 billion years ago. With this mission, the scientists hope to unlock a comet’s deep-frozen archive for the very first time.

Rosetta was developed for ESA by a European industrial consortium comprised of more than 70 firms and led by Astrium (Friedrichshafen). Astrium (UK) delivered the platform and Astrium (F) provided the avionics suite.

Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Astrium had a turnover of €4.3 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment and Astrium Services for the development and delivery of satellite services.

EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, EADS generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 000.

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