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The Rosetta probe successfully completes its mission

Artist’s impression of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Artist’s impression of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

On March 2, 2004, the Rosetta probe was launched into space from the Kourou European Spaceport, in French Guiana, to rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After a 10-year journey through space over a distance of more than 6 billion kilometers, which saw it flying over the Earth on three occasions, flying by Mars and having a close encounter with two asteroids, the probe left the orbit of Jupiter. At this point the probe was put into hibernation mode in deep space for 31 months, finally coming out of hibernation on January 20 2016 to complete the final leg of its epic journey. As planed, Rosetta completed its journey on 6 August when it touched down on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it will now accompany on its journey around the sun and back into Jupiter’s orbit.

The landing of Rosetta’s Philae module two years ago marked an important milestone in the history of space exploration, as this type of celestial body, veritable cosmic icebergs, had hitherto been unexplored. After a long journey, and faced with insufficient energy, the probe went into a long period of hibernation. After its rendezvous with the comet, Rosetta began its important scientific task as it reached its closest distance to the sun.

During this last phase, Rosetta has been programed to reach a point in its orbit in which its solar panels are no longer able to generate sufficient energy to power the instruments and systems, thus taking it into hibernation.

SENER has supplied part of the equipment for the Rosetta probe, a pioneering European Space Agency (ESA) mission that finally came to an end after its controlled touchdown on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on September 30.

During Rosetta’s last hours of descent it took numerous unique measurements, including very high-resolution images that increased the mission’s scientific return by gathering highly valuable data that can only be obtained in a final phase such as this. There now remain many years of work ahead to closely analyze all the information.

SENER in Rosetta

SENER components in the platform:

- Two deployable booms consisting of a carbon fiber tube and a deployment mechanism with five sensors. Their purpose is to place the sensors far from the spacecraft to minimize the disturbance created by the spacecraft electromagnetic field.

- A system of 15 louvres to ensure the thermal stability of the probe. Each louvre consists of 16 blades which open or close according to the incident radiation. This operation is carried out independently and does not require an external energy source. This innovative concept conceived 15 years ago by SENER has been vital in guaranteeing temperature control on Rosetta, even during periods of hibernation, and all with a minimal impact on the total mass of the probe.

- Optical screens used to attenuate incident solar radiation on the two navigation cameras and the two star tracker baffles.

SENER components in the payload or the scientific instruments onboard:

- OSIRIS (Optical Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System): Together with INTA and the IAA (Andalusian astrophysics Institute), SENER was responsible for the design and integration of the control electronics unit and the filter wheel mechanism (FWM) of the two cameras of OSIRIS, Rosetta’s main optical system, which has been used to take images of the comet and the Rosetta probe since the beginning of the mission. The two cameras comprise one NAC (Narrow Angle Camera), tasked with the high-resolution mapping of the comet’s nucleus, and one WAC (Wide Angle Camera), designed to map the gas emissions and space dust in the vicinity of the comet.

- In collaboration with IAA, the company developed the control electronics unit for GIADA (Grain Impact Analyzer and Dust Accumulator), which observes the mechanical properties, speed and mass of the particles in the comet’s tail.

This mission also laid the foundations for cooperation with research centers such as INTA and IIA, with which SENER continues working today (Solar Orbiter).

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