The Rosetta space probe mission, the first aiming to orbit and make a soft landing on a comet, is scheduled for launch on Thursday from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana.

Rosetta will be carried aboard an Ariane-5 launcher, its target being Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which Rosetta will encounter in 2014 after a tortuous 10-year, 790 million kilometre journey through the solar system.

Rosetta comprises a large orbiter and a small lander, carrying a total of 20 scientific instruments.

The comet has a 4km-wide nucleus and orbits the sun every 6.6 years. The probe will orbit the comet before moving toward its nucleus. Its cameras will help scientists choose a suitable landing site. The lander will then be released from a distance of 1km, holding itself onto the surface with two harpoons upon landing.


UK science minister Lord Sainsbury says: "Rosetta will be the first-ever spacecraft to perform a soft landing on a comet's nucleus.

"This will allow Rosetta to carry out more in-depth study [of a comet] than has ever been done before."

The $1.2 billion project will allow scientists to look back 4.6 billion years to a time when no planets existed.

Rosetta was initially grounded after another Ariane-5 vehicle exploded 4min into a flight from Kourou. The delay put the original mission's target, Comet Wirtanen, out of range.

Rosetta's industrial team involves more than 50 contractors from 14 European countries and the United States. The prime spacecraft contractor is Astrium Germany. Major subcontractors are Astrium UK (spacecraft platform), Astrium France (spacecraft avionics) and Alenia Spazio (assembly, integration and verification).

Source: Flight Daily News