The final leg of Rosetta’s four-year race to the launch pad
has now begun. After a 6500 km trip across the Atlantic Ocean,
ESA’s comet chaser arrived safely yesterday evening at the
Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The feverish activity to
prepare the unique spacecraft for its January launch has now
transferred from the European Space Research and Technology
Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to the tropical
jungle of South America.

After months of intensive environmental tests and technical
check-outs, Rosetta was lifted into a huge, protective metal
container on 2 September, ready for its journey to the launch
site on the other side of the world. As a final precaution,
engineers tested the spacecraft’s fuel tanks to ensure that
they were completely leak-proof, then Rosetta was confined
inside its nitrogen purged container.

“This room-sized container held the complete spacecraft,
including the lander and the large dish of the high gain
antenna,” explained Walter Pinter-Krainer, Principal
Assembly, Integration and Verification Engineer of Rosetta.
“Only the folded solar arrays, which were shipped to the
Kourou spaceport a few weeks earlier, were not attached to
the orbiter.”

On 10 September, the cocooned spacecraft was transferred
to a trailer for the slow overnight trip from ESTEC in
Noordwijk to Schiphol airport near Amsterdam. Illuminated
by the flashing lights of the police escort as it passed
along deserted country roads toward the motorway, the
precious cargo eventually arrived safely at its destination.

Later that day, the container and ground support equipment —
62 tonnes in all — were gingerly loaded onto a Russian
Antonov 124 transport plane ready for transportation to the
South American launch centre. After a 16 1/2-hour journey,
which included a stop-over at the Oporto airport in Portugal
and a five-hour time zone difference, the giant air
freighter touched down at Cayenne airport, close to the
Kourou spaceport, in the early evening.

Immediately on arrival, the Antonov was unloaded and the
spacecraft was taken to the S1 building, one of the
specialist payload facilities at the launch site, where it
was greeted by teams of experts from ESA, Astrium-Germany
and Alenia. Over recent weeks, these engineers have been
setting up the electrical links, internet communications
and essential test or mechanical equipment that was shipped
to the launch centre on an Arianespace supply vessel in late

“With the move from Europe to Kourou, we have now entered
the most exciting phase of the Rosetta programme so
far — the launch campaign,” said Walter Pinter-Krainer.
“Everything is looking good and we are on schedule for the

Over the next four months Rosetta will be undergoing a
rigorous, step-by-step programme of flight preparation,
leading to the mating between the comet chaser and the
upper stage of the Ariane-5 launch vehicle on 2 January
2003. The long, hard road from initial design to launch
will culminate 10 days later, when Rosetta finally sets
off on its unique mission to explore Comet Wirtanen.


* More about Rosetta


[Image 1:]
The container with the Rosetta spacecraft arrived safely at
Schiphol airport.

[Image 2:]
The container with the Rosetta spacecraft is loaded into the
Antonov 124 transport plane.

[Image 3:]
The container and ground support equipment were loaded into
the Antonov 124 transport plane.