Before leaving Earth a decade ago to journey 800 million km from the Sun, ESA’s comet-chasing mission Rosetta underwent a full test campaign at ESA’s Technical Centre in the Netherlands, the largest spacecraft testing facility in Europe. Here are some archive pictures. For more information on the full range of testing carried out, read the ESA Bulletin article from the time.
Rosetta’s Structural and Thermal Model – an initial replica of the final flight model, built for early testing – being lowered into the Large Space Simulator (LSS) at ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwik, the Netherlands, in April 2000. The LSS is Europe’s single largest vacuum chamber, 15 m in height and 10 m in diameter, used to test full-size spacecraft in representative space conditions.
Rosetta’s Structural and Thermal Model – a replica of the final flight model, produced for initial testing – being prepared for vibration testing on the Multishaker facility at the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, at the start of 2000. The testing subjects the spacecraft to the equivalent forces of a space launch. Rosetta's main 2.2 m-diameter high-gain antenna is seen, with one solar wing folded to the spacecraft’s right side.
Rosetta’s Structural and Thermal Model – an initial replica of the flight model built to allow early testing – in the Large Space Simulator at the ESTEC Test Centre in 2000. The LSS is Europe’s largest thermal vacuum chamber. High-performance pumps can achieve a vacuum a billion times lower than standard sea level atmosphere, while liquid nitrogen circulated around the walls approximates the cryogenic temperatures of space. An array of powerful xenon lamps reflected in the mirror array can reproduce the unfiltered sunlight prevailing in space.
Rosetta’s Structural and Thermal Model replica having undergone thermal vacuum testing inside ESA’s Large Space Simulator (LSS) in 2000, the mission’s final flight model underwent the same testing in March 2002, as shown here.
Europe’s largest vacuum chamber, this 15 m-high, 10 m-diameter cylinder can achieve a vacuum a billion times lower than standard sea level atmosphere, while liquid nitrogen circulated around the walls approximates the cryogenic temperatures of space. An array of powerful xenon lamps reflected in an array of mirrors can reproduce the unfiltered sunlight found in space, and the satellite can also be rotated. Note the Philae lander, attached to Rosetta’s side, due to land on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014.
In order to simulate the warmth of the inner Solar System, the exterior of the spacecraft was heated to a sizzling 150°C. During subsequent tests, the temperature was allowed to plummet to –180°C. Sensors indicated that the spacecraft’s insulation and heat control systems enabled Rosetta to survive these thermal tortures in fine shape, with internal temperatures restricted to between 40°C and –10° C.
Rosetta, with its main 2.2 m-diameter high-gain antenna deployed, undergoing extensive electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing in the Compact Payload Test Range in August 2002. This large test chamber at the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, simulates the EMC environment of deep space, being lined with cones that absorb radio signals and prevent reflections. To avoid TV or radio interference, the walls of the chamber form a steel ‘Faraday cage’, impenetrable to electromagnetic signals from the outside world. In this radiation-free environment, the ESTEC team studied the radio signals and electrical noise coming from the various systems on the spacecraft and checked whether they caused any electromagnetic interference with each other. The spacecraft was cocooned in protective plastic foil during the test process, which simulated Rosetta operations during different phases of its life cycle, from launch to deep space cruising to hibernation and awakening.
Flight model of the Rosetta spacecraft being transferred within the ESTEC Test Centre for acoustic and vibration testing in April 2002. Its folded solar wings can be seen on either side of the main box-shaped hull, with the Philae lander – scheduled to land on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014 – folded up on the front side.
As of January 2014, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft is far in deep space, preparing for its scheduled August arrival at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Taken back in May 2002, this image shows Rosetta being checked in the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
One of Rosetta’s massive solar wings is undergoing a deployment test, supported on a rig to allow it to unfurl in Earth gravity instead of weightlessness.
Each made up of five hinged panels, the pair of wings stretches 32 m tip-to-tip from the box-shaped spacecraft. Steerable, they have provided sufficient solar power to allow Rosetta to operate as far as 800 million km from the Sun, further than any previous solar-powered mission. New ‘LILT’ ‘low intensity low temperature’ solar cells were specially designed for the array.
On the top of the spacecraft can be glimpsed Rosetta’s 2.2 m-diameter high-gain antenna, a steerable dish used to return science data to Earth.
The payload fairing is lowered over ESA’s Rosetta cometary probe on top of the first Ariane 5G+, in the Final Assembly Building of Ariane Launch Complex 3 at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s spaceport, on 18 February 2004. The launcher was transferred to the pad on 24 February but, due to several delays caused by high altitude winds, it lifted off on 2 March 2004.
Owing to delays in the Ariane 5 programme, the initial launch campaign to comet 46P/Wirtanen was interrupted in December 2002 and the mission was redesigned for comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Rosetta lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 07:17 GMT (08:17 CET, 04:17 local time) on 2 March 2004.