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Rosetta's third Earth swingby

Rosetta's third Earth swingby

30 October 2009

On 13 November 2009 Rosetta will swing by Earth and pass within 2500 km of Earth's surface. The manoeuvre is the fourth and last in a series of gravity assists and will provide the spacecraft with the required orbital boost to set course for the mission's final destination: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Animation of the third Earth swingby. Credit: ESA, images: NASA Solar System Simulator

Since its launch on 2 March 2004 Rosetta has made a long journey through the inner Solar System and has already performed three planetary gravity assists.

Gravity assists

 Earth  4 March 2005
 Mars  25 February 2007
 Earth  13 November 2007
 Earth  13 November 2009

The third and final Earth swingby will, coincidently, occur exactly two years after the previous gravity assist in November 2007. When completed, the four swingby's together will have provided the spacecraft with the orbital energy required to escape the inner Solar System and travel out to nearly the orbit of Jupiter for a rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

The Earth swingby is critical for the success of the overall mission. During the swingby the highest priority is therefore given to spacecraft operations. However, science observations of the Earth and Moon with several of Rosetta's instruments are also planned during this swingby.

Third Earth swingby details

On 13 November 2009 Rosetta will swing by Earth at a distance of 2481 km. Closest approach is currently expected at 07:45:40 UTC, with the spacecraft flying over a point just off the south coast of the Indonesian island of Java, at about 109°E and 8°S. Rosetta's velocity relative to the Earth will be 13.3 kms-1.

  • Note: these numbers are all subject to change. For the latest official updates on the third Earth swingby please visit the
    ESA Rosetta swingby web site.

Timeline of key events

Time (UT) Event
22 October
12:30 - 19:30 TCM slot (CA – 3 weeks)
5 November
11:30 - 18:30 TCM slot (CA – 1 week)
6 November
Starting 21:45 Instruments switched on to begin observations of the Earth-Moon system
12 November
09:30 - 16:30 TCM slot (CA – 1 day)
13 November
00:00 - 07:00  TCM slot (CA – 6 hours)
07:45 Earth closest approach
08:04 - 09:55 Swing-by confirmation via Maspalomas ground station, Canary Islands
10:00 - 20:00 Start science data download via NASA DSN Goldstone, California
15:41 Moon closest approach
20:13 - 04:04 ESTRACK DSA New Norcia ground station pass, Australia
19 November
By 11:05 Instruments switched off

All times are subject to change.

CA: Closest approach to Earth 
TCM: Trajectory correction manoeuvre 
DSN: Deep Space Network (NASA) 
DSA: Deep Space Antenna (ESA)

Plotting the course

A dedicated navigation campaign is underway to ensure the spacecraft is on the right trajectory for the third Earth swing-by (see also status report no. 121 in right-hand menu). The flight dynamics team at ESOC determines what, if any, course adjustments need to be made. Information on Rosetta's current trajectory comes from telemetry transmitted by Rosetta and from Doppler and ranging data received from the ESA and NASA ground stations that are tracking the spacecraft regularly.

Four specific time slots are reserved for trajectory correction manoeuvres (TCM) should they be needed. The first and primary TCM has been successfully performed on 22 October, three weeks before closest approach. The three additional time slots for possible further refinement of the spacecraft's approach trajectory are at 1 week, 1 day and 6 hours before closest approach (see the timeline above).

During a TCM Rosetta fires its four 10-Newton axial thrusters for a precisely determined length of time, to impart the required change in the spacecraft's velocity vector.

Preparing for the third Earth swingby:
End of hibernation and check-out activities

In preparation for the Earth swingby, the Rosetta spacecraft was reconfigured to active cruise mode on 8 September 2009, following an extended period of hibernation in passive cruise mode. These hibernation periods are part of the normal mission planning and are introduced because of the long mission duration (more than 10 years between launch and the arrival of Rosetta at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko). During the hibernation periods all instruments are switched off.

The end of the hibernation on 8 September was directly followed by standard check-out activities of both the spacecraft and instruments (on the orbiter as well as the lander). The instruments were switched on in turn to perform software updates and verifications in preparation for the swing-by operations. The check-out activities were completed in early October.

Details of these preparatory activities can be found in status reports numbers 118 through 120 (see related link in the right-hand menu).

Next stop: asteroid Lutetia

After the third Earth swingby Rosetta will be on the long final leg of its journey towards comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Before reaching this final destination Rosetta will mark another milestone when the spacecraft performs a flyby of asteroid Lutetia on 10 July 2010. Several instruments on the Rosetta orbiter and the Philae lander will study asteroid Lutetia from the unique vintage point during the flyby.

For most of the remainder of its cruise through the outer Solar System, Rosetta will be configured in deep space hibernation, from July 2011 to January 2014. Two major trajectory manoeuvres are planned right before and after the deep space hibernation. These will synchronize Rosetta's orbit with that of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, leading up to the spacecraft's rendezvous with the comet in May 2014.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
18-Apr-2024 22:49 UT

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