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Artist’s impression of ESA’s Rosetta cometary probe. The spacecraft is covered with dark thermal insulation in order to keep it warm while venturing into the coldness of the outer Solar System, beyond Mars orbit.
Selected in November 1993 as a cornerstone mission of ESA’s long-term science programme, Rosetta was launched by an Ariane 5 on 2 March 2004, on an 11-year journey to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Built by EADS Astrium, Rosetta consists of a 3065 kg spacecraft (1578 kg dry mass) to orbit the comet from August 2014 after a series of gravity-assists to gain orbital energy, with three swingbys at Earth (March 2005, November 2007 and November 2009) and one at Mars (February 2007). En route to the comet, the probe flew by the asteroids 2867 Steins (September 2008) and 21 Lutetia (July 2010).
The spacecraft carries 11 science instruments to probe the comet’s nucleus and map its surface in fine detail. It also landed a package of instruments on Philae to study some of the most primitive, unprocessed material in the Solar System. The mission is providing clues to the physical and chemical processes at work during the formation of planets, beginning 4.6 billion years ago.