The Rosetta Lander, designed to be the first spacecraft in the history of space exploration to make a soft-landing on the icy nucleus of a comet, has now joined its ‘mother craft’ at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

Over the coming months, the two elements of the most ambitious mission ever to explore a comet will undergo a complex test programme to prepare them for their eight-year trek to the depths of the Solar System.

“The Lander successfully completed a comprehensive series of environmental tests in Germany,” said Philippe Kletzkine, ESA manager for the Rosetta Lander. “These included vibration tests, thermal-vacuum tests and magnetic tests, as well as measurements of its electromagnetic characteristics, mass and centre of gravity.”

“In other words, the respective engineering specialists weighed it, checked its balance when spinning, and measured how magnetic it is,” he explained. “Then they simulated the hazardous conditions associated with the launch and the trek through space by shaking it and changing its temperature by more than 100 degrees Celsius in an airless chamber.”

After the prolonged programme of testing at the premises of IABG in Munich, the Rosetta Lander was transported inside an air conditioned container to the ESA test facilities in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. No time was wasted upon arrival, as the engineers worked long shifts over the weekend to unload, check out and attach the 96 kg Lander to its eject mechanism and Lander interface. By 3 December, the Lander was ready to be mated to its much larger ‘mother craft’.

Over the next few weeks, the combined spacecraft will undergo a major ‘integrated systems’ test to ensure that the Orbiter control computers can communicate with the attached Lander and that the Lander responds in the correct way. This will be followed in late January with a four-week thermal-vacuum test, when the spacecraft will be alternately baked and frozen to check its ability to survive the extreme temperatures they will experience during the long journey to Comet Wirtanen.

ESA’s comet chasing Rosetta spacecraft comprises an Orbiter and a Lander. The Orbiter is scheduled to arrive at Comet Wirtanen and brake into orbit around its solid nucleus in the summer of 2011. Once the surface of the cometís nucleus has been surveyed in unprecedented detail and a suitable landing site has been selected, the Lander will separate from the Orbiter and slowly descend a few kilometres to the pristine surface.

Over a period of several weeks, the suite of nine instruments will send back close-up pictures, drill into the organic crust, sample the primordial ices and gases and probe the internal structure of this cosmic snowball.

“Working in unison, the Lander and the Orbiter will revolutionise our understanding of comets,” said Rosetta project scientist, Gerhard Schwehm. “They will lead to amazing discoveries about the most primitive building blocks of the Solar System.”

For more information please contact:

Philippe Kletzkine
Lander manager in the Rosetta project
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3761

Dr. Gerhard Schwehm
Rosetta project scientist
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3539

Related Links

  • Rosetta Lander home page at MPAe
  • Rosetta Lander home page at DLR
  • More about the Rosetta Lander
  • More about Rosetta