The international Rosetta mission is the third Cornerstone Mission in the European Space Agency’s long-term space science programme. Launched in March 2004, the mission’s objective is to rendezvous with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The spacecraft is orbiting the comet at a distance of one kilometre, and will stay there for nearly two years, studying the comet’s nucleus and its environment. On 12th November 2014 a lander deploy to the surface and will carry out surface-science investigations and analyses on Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
In order to reach its destination Rosetta increased its speed by gaining momentum during its journey through a sequence of four planetary swing-bys in the gravity fields of the Earth and Mars. In 2008 Rosetta passed by the asteroid 2867 Steins and provided a unique opportunity to characterise the surface and environment of the rare E-type asteroid. In 2010 Rosetta flew by another asteroid, allowing scientists to learn more about 21 Lutetia.
Previous missions have show that comets contain complex organic molecules – compounds that are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Interestingly, these are the elements which make up nucleic acids and amino acids, the essential ingredients for life as we know it. Rosetta may help us to find the answer to the question of whether life on Earth began with the help of comet seeding.
Airbus Defence and Space Germany was prime contractor for the Rosetta mission, responsible for building the spacecraft. Other contributions were provided by Airbus Defence and Space UK who built the spacecraft platform and Airbus Defence and Space France who supplied the spacecraft avionics.
The Open University has an instrument on the lander, PTOLEMY, an evolved gas analyser, which obtains accurate measurements of isotopic ratios of light elements.
The lander deploys at around 0800 on the 12th of November. The live blog is here.
Really great infographic answering all those questions you never knew you had is here.
And not forgetting the sci-fi video AMBITION. Its only 6 minutes, but it’s A-MA-ZING.
I am very ecited to watch this mission evolve. We should be proud of the British contribution.