Rosetta, the European Space Agency's (ESA) interplanetary probe built with the contribution of Alenia Spazio, has been presented today to the international scientific community and the Italian press at the Finmeccanica company's plant in Turin.
Once its integration is finished at Alenia Spazio in Turin, the probe will leave Italy definitively, around the middle of November, for the ESTEC Centre in The Netherlands where it will undergo the environmental test campaign. After that, it will proceed to Kourou, French Guyana, for the launch in January 2003 on an Ariane 5. Nine years later, the probe will make a close encounter with Comet 46P/Wirtanen.
Once it reaches the comet, Rosetta, named after the famous stone that led to the deciphering of the mysterious hieroglyphics, will, for about two years, make a detailed map of Wirtanen's nucleus and observe its chemical-physical variations during one of its periodic visits to the Solar System.
In particular, Rosetta will analyse the dust and gas emissions and determine their chemical and isotopic composition. It will also provide scientific data by analysing samples lifted directly from the comet thanks to the Lander carried on the probe which will be able to land and remain attached to the comet's nucleus.
However, to reach the comet, Rosetta will have to make a trip of 115 months, in 80 of which it will be in "hibernation" and will be awakened only to make close observations of the asteroids Otawara, in 2006, and Siwa, in 2008.
At launch Rosetta will weigh a total of 3000 kg and will carry technologically advanced equipment and an equally advanced scientific payload. Among the instruments to which Italy has made a significant contribution are the VIRTIS optic and infrared spectrometer and the GIADA dust analyser. Given that the probe will have to operate a great distance from the Sun, it will also carry special solar cells designed to guarantee operational autonomy and the possibility to work efficiently at very low temperatures and solar radiation.
Alenia Spazio is participating in the Rosetta programme, led by Astrium from Germany, as main contractor for the assembly, integration and testing of the satellite and for the definition and procurement of the MGSE and EGSE ground support equipment.
The Italian company is also responsible for the construction of the satellite transponder operating in the S and X bands.
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