Lift off for Rosetta at Le Bourget
21 June 2001The January 2003 launch of ESA's Rosetta comet chaser by an Ariane 5 rocket was confirmed on Tuesday, 19 June, at the Paris Air Show.
The signatories at the official ceremony marking the completion of the Rosetta launch services contract negotiations were the ESA Science Director, Professor David Southwood, and Arianespace Chairman and CEO, Jean-Marie Luton.
Ariane 5 is one of the few rockets in the world with the payload lift capability required to send the three tonne Rosetta spacecraft towards the distant comet.
"The 2003 launch will mark the first time an Ariane 5 has launched a spacecraft beyond Earth orbit," said Dr John Ellwood, the ESA project manager for Rosetta.
Other key factors were the willingness of Arianespace to do everything possible to ensure that the launch will take place within the three-week launch window and the launcher's ability to perform an extended coast phase with its EPS upper stage.
After launch from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, the EPS stage and its Rosetta payload will remain in a 4000 km x 200 km coast orbit for just under two hours. Prior to reaching perigee (the closest point to the Earth), the upper stage will be ignited, injecting Rosetta into the required Earth escape trajectory towards Mars.
"We're very happy to be able to use this extended coast phase capability of Ariane 5, which is critical to the Rosetta mission," said Professor Southwood.
Rosetta is one of the Cornerstones in ESA's long-term scientific programme. Its objective is to carry out the most intensive and detailed studies ever made of a comet, and hence hopefully unlock the mystery of how life evolved on Earth. The small cosmic snowballs we know as comets are generally regarded as the most primitive objects in the Solar System, the building blocks from which the Earth and other planets were formed some 4.6 billion years ago.
During its eight-year odyssey to Comet 46P/Wirtanen, Rosetta will swing by Mars once and Earth twice, using their gravity to provide the energy needed for its voyage into deep space. The extended trek will also include flybys of two unusual asteroids, Siwa and Otawara.
Rosetta will eventually rendezvous with Comet 46P/Wirtanen in November 2011. While the Rosetta Orbiter's payload of scientific instruments studies the comet from close range - with the closest observations made from a distance of about 1 km - a small lander will be released onto the comet's surface to make direct observations of the solid nucleus.
The Orbiter's comet reconnaissance mission will continue for nearly two years, during which it will monitor the dramatic changes that take place as the nucleus begins to vapourise in the warmth of the Sun.