A little more than one year from now, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft will be speeding through space at many thousands of kilometres per hour. In comparison, the orbiter’s stately journey across Europe this week was fairly unspectacular, but the implications for the Rosetta programme are immense.

Following the successful completion of their complex assembly, integration and verification (AIV) campaigns on the premises of Alenia Spazio in Turin, the two sections of Europe’s comet chaser were finally mated on 2 November. With the main structure of the orbiter now assembled for the first time, the Rosetta hardware could be packed and prepared for the 1000 kilometre trek to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

During the week of 12-16 November, no fewer than a dozen lorries were slowly trundling across the continent, passing through the Frejus tunnel into France, then up to the Low Countries.

“It was quite a major operation,” said Walter Pinter-Krainer, principal system AIV engineer for Rosetta. “The first lorry was arriving in ESTEC as the last one was leaving Turin.”

Pride of place was given to the flat-back lorry carrying the precious Rosetta spacecraft. Illuminated by the flashing lights of a permanent police escort, the spacecraft was carefully cocooned in a pressurised, temperature-controlled container to protect it from damage or contamination during the long journey. The fleet of vehicles was also loaded with a mass of specialised equipment that is required for the extensive environmental tests that will take place at ESTEC over the coming months. This included all of the power, telemetry and telecommunications equipment – everything to electrically operate and check out the spacecraft.

The load also included mechanical ground support equipment, such as turntables and a multi-purpose trolley, that can be used to move, tilt and manoeuvre the three tonne spacecraft in any direction.

Still other key items, notably the large dish of the high-gain antenna and the spacecraft’s two enormous solar ‘wings’, will be transported to the Netherlands at a later date, since they are not immediately needed for the forthcoming test programme.

“With the safe arrival of Rosetta at ESTEC, we can now begin the all-important environmental tests on the complex spacecraft,” said Dr. John Ellwood, Rosetta project manager. “These will ensure that it will be able to operate for many years in deep space, then complete its exciting mission to rendezvous with Comet Wirtanen and deploy a lander on the icy nucleus.”

The exhaustive series of environmental tests, which will take place over the next eight months, will simulate the hazardous conditions that the spacecraft will experience in outer space – extreme temperatures, vibrations and an airless vacuum.

Rosetta is scheduled to be shipped to the Kourou launch site in South America at the end of summer 2002.

For further information please contact:

Dr. John Ellwood
Rosetta project manager
ESTEC, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3507
Email: john.ellwood@esa.int

Related Link

  • The Rosetta spacecraft