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March, 2004 - Nr. 3


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Europe launches "comet chaser" Rosetta

   TWIG - The European mission that is expected to be the first to land a spacecraft on a comet took off Tuesday from Kourou in French Guiana.

With the Rosetta orbiter and lander, the European Space Agency (ESA) is ready to take the lead in the race to discover exactly what makes up a comet.

Scientists say that landing on a comet and analyzing its surface are major scientific milestones that could vastly improve our understanding of the origin of the Sun and the planets, including Earth.

Previous studies by ESAís Giotto spacecraft and by observatories have shown that comets contain what are considered the building blocks for life ó the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

Rosetta will allow scientists to look back 4,600 million years to an epoch when no planets existed in our solar system and only a vast swarm of asteroids and comets surrounded the Sun.

The Rosetta lander, called Philae, is provided by a European consortium headed by the German Aerospace Research Center (DLR). With a contribution of approximately 280 million Eur ($347 million), Germany is making the largest financial contribution in the circa 1 bn Eur ($1.24bn) mission. Mission Control is located at DLR in Cologne.

The Rosetta mission, whose launch had been postponed a number of times, will take ten years to travel through the solar system before reaching the comet, a large dirty snowball known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

At its furthest point, Rosetta will be 1bn kilometers from Earth. Once at the comet, Rosetta will become the first mission to orbit a cometís nucleus, and its lander Philae will be the first to ultimately set foot on a comet.

Rosetta will orbit the comet for an entire year as it approaches the Sun. The lander will also take photographs and analyze the cometís composition. As the cometís ice evaporates, instruments on board the orbiter will study the dust and gas particles which surround the comet and its trail, as well as the tailís interaction with the solar wind.

The orbiterís scientific payload includes 11 experiments and the small landing mechanism, which is equipped with its own payload of scientific instruments.

Scientific consortia from institutes across Europe and the United States have provided these state-of-the-art instruments, including ESA, the French space agency CNES, and institutes from Austria, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"


European Space Agency


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