Rosetta's mating ritual completed
8 November 2001A major landmark was passed this week in the race to prepare the Rosetta spacecraft for its January 2003 launch from South America. After the successful mating of the two modules that make up ESA's comet chaser, the Rosetta flight model is now ready for transportation to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands. It will then undergo an exhaustive series of tests before shipment to the launch site at the end of summer 2002.
The mating, which took place on 2 November, was the final stage in the lengthy assembly, integration and verification (AIV) campaign at the Turin plant of Alenia Spazio.
"This is an important step on the long road to launching Rosetta, 14 months from now," said ESA's project manager for Rosetta, John Ellwood. "Our colleagues in Italy have worked extremely hard to make this possible, and we are very grateful for all of their efforts."
"We are now looking forward to completing the test programme and sending the spacecraft on its epic journey to Comet Wirtanen," he added.
Mating the modules
In recent months, the two sections of the Rosetta orbiter have been sitting side by side in the giant clean room on the premises of Alenia Spazio while engineers painstakingly assembled and tested the spacecraft's instruments and other hardware.
This separate existence came to an end when the 200 kg Payload Support Module - the home of Rosetta's 11 scientific instruments - was carefully lifted on top of the Bus Support Module, where the main power, communication and propulsion systems are housed.
Once the sections were bolted together and the hundreds of cables linking the modules were connected, the main structure of the Rosetta flight model was visible for the first time.
"For us, this event may be considered to be 'a point of no return'," said Claude Berner, Rosetta's payload and AIV manager. "The spacecraft is now in its final configuration for the environmental testing that will take place at ESTEC in the coming months."
Once the Alenia and ESA teams have checked that all systems are working properly after the mating, the flight model will be packed for its long journey to the Netherlands. During the week of 12 November, Rosetta and all of its ground support equipment will be transported across Europe to the state-of-the art test facilities at ESTEC.