The European Space Agency is planning to make history with its Rosetta “comet chaser” by becoming the first space mission to rendezvous with a comet, the first to attempt a landing on a comet’s surface, and the first to follow a comet as it swings around the Sun.
Two Irish companies are heavily involved in this highly ambitious space mission, CAPTEC and Space Technology Ireland. These companies are pioneers of the Irish space industry having been involved in numerous ESA science missions, and are paving the way for a growing cohort of Irish technology companies in the space sector.
Rosetta recently made headlines having “woken up” from a 31 month hibernation period to prepare for its mission objectives. Operating on solar energy alone, Rosetta was placed into a deep space slumber in June 2011 as it cruised out to a distance of nearly 800 million km from the warmth of the Sun. Now, as Rosetta’s orbit has brought it back to within 'only' 673 million km from the Sun, there is enough solar energy to power the spacecraft fully again.
Comets are considered the primitive building blocks of the Solar System and likely helped to ‘seed’ Earth with water, perhaps even the ingredients for life. But many fundamental questions about these enigmatic objects remain, and through its comprehensive, in situ study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta aims to unlock the secrets contained within.
Rosetta will track the evolution of the comet on a daily basis and for over a year, providing a unique insight into a comet’s behaviour and ultimately helping to decipher their role in the formation of the Solar System.
Two Irish companies are actively involved with the mission; Space Technology Ireland Ltd (STIL), led by renowned space scientist, Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor, was responsible for the development of the hardware supporting communications between the orbiter and lander.
CAPTEC provided the independent validation of mission critical software and developed the software for the communications interface between the orbiter and the lander. CAPTEC also provided engineering support to the prime contractor for the launch activities at Kourou.
To learn more about Irish companies involved in ESA programmes click here.
For more information on the Rosetta mission click here.
Follow the Rosetta twitter account: @ESA_Rosetta