Rosetta’s comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is beginning to show a clearly visible increase in activity. While in the past months most of the dust emitted from the body’s surface seemed to originate from the neck region which connects the two lobes, images obtained by Rosetta’s scientific imaging system OSIRIS now show jets of dust along almost the whole body of the comet.
Currently, still more than 450 million kilometers are separating 67P from the Sun. Based on a rich history of ground-based observations scientists expect a comet’s activity to pick-up noticeably once it comes within 300 million kilometers of the Sun.
While 67P’s overall activity is clearly increasing, the mission’s designated landing site on the “head” of the comet still seems to be rather quiet. However, there is some indication that new active areas are waking up about one kilometer from landing area J. These will allow the lander’s instruments to study the comet’s activity from an even closer distance.
Rosetta and the UK
With funding from the UK Space Agency and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Rosetta is a mission with significant UK involvement from industry and science.
One of the main challenges for all the companies designing instruments for Rosetta has been to ensure the components remain intact for ten years, while the spacecraft makes its way to the comet, and then work perfectly when it gets there. Not an easy task! Visit the UK Rosetta website for more information about the UK’s involvement.
Airbus Defence and Space, based in Stevenage, was the major subcontractor for the Rosetta platform
e2v, based in Chelmsford, designed and supplied the high performance imaging devices used in the Navigation Camera, OSIRIS narrow field and wide field cameras and VITRIS-M instruments on the orbiter and ROLIS and CIVA instruments on the lander
ABSL Space Products provided innovative batteries for the spacecraft and lander
these are smaller, lighter and much more reliable than the traditional nickel-cadmium batteries
ERS Technology supported the development of many subsystems including the reactions wheels, solar array drive motors, Philae harpoon motors and developed the lubricant for the atomic force microscope on the Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System (MIDAS)
Technology created by CGI Group helped to explore some of the issues involved in such a long mission
the company was also involved in the development of the Rosetta on board software
moog provided tanks to store the helium used by the lander.
STFC’s RAL Space co-developed the Ptolemy instrument with the Open University and designed the thermal insulation for the GIADA and VIRTIS instruments as well as the Philae lander itself
SciSys UK Ltd is responsible for the spacecraft Mission Control System development and maintenance. In recognition of this work on the Rosetta and the Beagle 2 missions, SciSys were awarded the title of “Innovator of the Year” by the UK Computing Awards for Excellence 2004
Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) designed a wheel that will stabilise the probe as it descends and lands on the comet
Telespazio VEGA was involved in many aspects of the Rosetta mission, from the overall design of the spacecraft to the on-board software
UK scientists are involved in ten of the 21 experiments that Rosetta will carry out during its mission:
the Open University in collaboration with STFC RAL Space designed and built the Ptolemy instrument on the lander and is contributing scientific expertise to the GIADA, MUPUS and SESAME instrument teams
the University of Kent will be helping to analyse the results from the OSIRIS instrument and have been involved in observing Rosetta’s target comet from ground-based telescopes to aid mission planning
Imperial College London and University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) supply the team studying the comet’s plasma
Scientists at Oxford University are part of the science team for VIRTIS
Queen Mary College at the University of London will be investigating the results of the CONSERT instrument
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast are part of the team observing Rosetta’s target comet using ground-based telescopes