Rosetta mission prepares for launch
News story originally written on January 15, 2004
Scientists and engineers involved with the Rosetta space mission are preparing for the spacecraft's launch, which is scheduled for February 2004. Rosetta was originally intended to blast off about one year ago, in January 2003. Last year's launch was delayed, however, over concerns about the safety of the spacecraft's Ariane 5 launch vehicle. While engineers worked out the problems with the Ariane rocket, scientists had to choose a new target for the Rosetta mission which will rendezvous with and land a probe on the surface of a comet. The original target, Comet Wirtanen, has moved out of range of the mission.
Rosetta is now slated to begin pursuit of its new target, Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with a liftoff on February 26, 2004. Rosetta's new target is larger than the comet it was formerly designed to study, and thus has stronger gravity. Engineers had to modify the landing gear on the Rosetta lander to withstand more shock since the vehicle will be moving faster when in touches down on the comet's nucleus.
Rosetta will travel a long and roundabout path on the way to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft will go into orbit around the comet in August 2014, and the lander will touch down in November of that year. Along the way it will fly by Earth three times and Mars once, gaining speed via a "gravity assist" during each planetary encounter. Rosetta is also expected to fly past at least one asteroid during its ten-year long journey, though the particular asteroid it will study has not yet been chosen.