Rendezvous with and landing on a comet
Name The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by a French soldier in Napoleon's army near the town of Rashid on the Nile. It proved the key to finally deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics - the same text in Greek was next to them on the stone. The Rosetta mission may be the key that unlocks the secrets of how life began on Earth.
Description Rosetta will be the first mission ever to orbit and land on a comet. Following the decision not to launch Europe's comet chaser, Rosetta, in January 2003, scientists and engineers in the programme examined several alternative mission scenarios. Each was judged on the basis of the expected scientific return, the technical risks related to using the Rosetta design in the new mission. In May 2003, Rosetta was provided with a new target.
Launch 2 March 2004.
Status En route to target
Journey On its journey to a comet, Rosetta will use fly-bys of the Earth and Mars to help it to get to its final destination.
Notes Comets preserve information from the time of formation of our Solar System, 4600 million years ago. Landing on a comet and analysing its surface is seen as a major scientific milestone to improve our understanding of the origin of the Sun and the planets including Earth. Apart from that, it is a unique technological challenge!
When it touches down on the comet, the Rosetta lander will use three different techniques (self-adjusting landing gear, harpoons, and ice screws in the landing pads). These ensure that once it has arrived on the surface of the comet, it stays there.
Instructions from the ground take up to 50 minutes to reach the spacecraft, so Rosetta must have the 'intelligence' to look after itself. It will use sophisticated on-board computers and software whose tasks include data management, attitude, and orbit control.
Rosetta is one of the most challenging missions ever - many of the complex navigation and landing manoeuvres need to take place automatically with absolutely no room for error.
Last update: 1 November 2004