2004: On 2 March 2004, ESA's comet chaser, Rosetta, was launched.
Rosetta was launched into an orbit around the Sun, which will allow it to reach the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014 after three flybys of the Earth and one of Mars.
Rosetta is the first probe designed to enter orbit around a comet’s nucleus and release a lander onto its surface. For over a year it will conduct a thorough study of this remnant of the primitive nebula which gave birth to our Solar System about 5000 million years ago.
Rosetta’s mission began at 08:17 CET (07:17 UT) on 2 March when a European Ariane 5 launch vehicle lifted off from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The launcher successfully placed its upper stage and payload into an eccentric coast orbit (200 x 4000 km). About two hours later, at 10:14 CET (09:14 UT), the upper stage ignited its own engine to reach an escape velocity in order to leave the Earth’s gravity field and enter heliocentric orbit. The Rosetta probe was released 18 minutes later.