The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission is dedicated to the exploration of small bodies in our Solar System. It was launched on 2 March 2004 and throughout its long journey has successfully performed fly-bys of the Steins asteroid in 2008 and the Lutetia asteroid in 2010. Its primary objective is to carry out detailed investigations on the characteristics of the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, orbit of which was achieved on 6 August 2014.
After a long period of "hibernation" which began in June 2011 and was completed in January 2014, Rosetta successfully reached its destination, becoming the first space mission to "meet" a comet.
The Rosetta probe is composed of an orbiter - where the sensors are located for remote sensing experiments - and a lander, called Philae, that on 12 November 2014 landed - for the first time in the history of space exploration - on the surface of a comet. Then it carried out a series of measurements on the physical characteristics of the surface and investigated the internal structure of the comet core. The main scientific objective of the mission was to gain understanding of the origin of comets and the relationship between their composition and interstellar matter as fundamental elements for tracing the origins of the Solar System.
Rosetta is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission that has received support from EU member states and NASA. The Philae lander was developed by an international consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI. Italian industries involved in the project include Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space besides Leonardo’s Airborne & Space Systems Division.
Thales Alenia Space
Thales Alenia Space took part in the mission as main contractor on behalf of prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space for the assembly, integration and test activities of the entire satellite, which were carried out at the Turin site, and for the launch campaign, for which it also looked after the definition and procurement of the mechanical and electrical support equipment. The verification of the probe’s autonomous operational capabilities was of particular importance since, due to the considerable distance from Earth during the critical phases of the mission radio, signals take over 20 minutes to reach it and just as many to arrive at the ESA control centre in Darmstadt (Germany).
Thales Alenia Space also developed, at its laboratories in Rome, the special digital transponder on-board the satellite, operating in the S- and X bands, expressly designed for communications at a distance of hundreds of millions of kilometres and essential for the connection between the probe and Earth. This device, called the Deep Space Transponder, is characterised by its extreme innovativeness and is the reference platform for interplanetary missions.
Telespazio, through its subsidiary Telespazio VEGA Deutschland, was involved in the Rosetta programme since the late 1990s, when the ESOC began the mission planning. The first agreement made was for the development of the simulator for the Rosetta orbiter, made along with the two simulators for the Mars Express and Venus Express missions. Since its delivery to the ESOC in Darmstadt, the simulator has been used to support and control activities during the various phases of the mission: the first phase of launch and LEOP, during the flight, the hibernation period, to the approach and orbit around the comet. The simulation campaigns were led by experts of Telespazio VEGA Deutschland.
Telespazio experts were part of the ESOC Flight Control and Flight Dynamics teams, ICT Engineering, Ground Station as well as Administration teams and supported all the stages of Rosetta's journey and its approach to and orbiting around the comet.
Telespazio VEGA Deutschland also developed the Rosetta Mission Control System and the Mission Planning System, which was used to schedule the spacecraft’s numerous different tasks coming from Flight Dynamics, the scientists and the Flight Control Team. Telespazio VEGA Deutschland supported the German Space Agency (DLR), in Cologne, during the various phases of the Philae mission including the management and development of the project, the creation of the model and the validation of the Philae’s simulator, the ground segment development, the 3D animation of the orbiter and lander and ground control during the set-up of Philae’s operational phase. The company also provided DLR with Philae mission’s technical manager thus contributing till the very last act of this space adventure.
Leonardo, through its Electronics Division, took part of the Rosetta mission with a number of systems and instruments starting from the A-STR, autonomous star tracker which allowed Rosetta to adjust the antenna in order to send signals to Earth. A NAV CAM (Navigation Camera) from the Division helped the probe’s space navigation towards the comet and the capturing of high-resolution images in the phases of the probe’s revolution around the comet.
The Division also provided GIADA (Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator) developed to analyse the dust and particles in the comet's chioma by measuring the physical properties and dynamics, the relationship between gas and granular matter and the speed of the particles; and VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), able to detect the thermal characteristics of the comet, allowing to map the composition of the star.
The Division also equipped the Lander Philae with a very sophisticated drill and with the purpose of perforating the surface of the comet and operate up to a depth of 30 centimetres to acquire samples of the comet. Both the probe and the lander were equipped with Photovoltaic Assemblies (PVA) - the largest ever made for an ESA mission. In particular, Rosetta’s power supply consisted of PVAs that had an area of 62m2 and a length of 14 metres.