JANUARY 21--"Rosetta" is the European Space Agency's cornerstone mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, due to launch from its French Guiana spaceport next month (February 2004). Rosetta will travel with the comet for 12 months to study and record changes to its nucleus on route to the Sun, relying on sensors from e2v Technologies (Chelmsford, UK; e2vtechnologies.com) to capture vital images. Visitors to Booth 620 at Photonics West 2004 can view samples of e2v CCDs (charge-coupled devices) used in key space programs, including Rosetta.
Rosetta is the most challenging mission to be launched by Europe to date. e2v Technologies has supplied image sensors essential for the spacecraft's navigation system on its 11-year journey, as well as the high-resolution devices that form its main science camera. Helping to make space exploration history, the light sensitive sensors in the science camera will capture high resolution images of comet 67P's nucleus and surroundings, initially from a distance of a few kilometers. Once safely in orbit around the comet, the breakaway Rosetta lander will then descend and anchor itself on the comet's icy surface for more detailed surveying, and the chance to transmit back to Earth further unprecedented images.
Never before has a space mission orbited and landed on a comet! The pictures captured will therefore be world firsts, with the exciting prospect of observing in real time the wakening of the comet as it approaches the sun and thaws from its years of hibernation in the cold of space. Scientists expect to see the development of the comet's characteristic tail as the sun starts to thaw the ice and it evaporates in high-pressure jets from the surface of the comet.
UK-based e2v Technologies designed and manufactured special versions of its CCD42-40s for use in Rosetta's OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) camera--the mission's key scientific imaging instrument. Back-illuminated with antiblooming, the customized CCDs are ideal for this challenging mission. For navigation, the front-illuminated CCD47-20s were selected for this long-endurance and demanding mission.
The comet chaser, due to reach Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, will also record scientific data on Mars and at least one close-by asteroid.