Main Theme Minor bodies of the Solar System
Mission Responsibility ESA
Launch Date 2 March 2004
End of mission December 2015
Current phase E2
ROSETTA is a Cornerstone mission of the ESA Horizon 2000 programme dedicated to exploring minor bodies of the Solar System. It was launched on 2 March 2004 and has successfully executed the fly-by of the Steins asteroid (2008) and will perform a fly-by of the asteroid Lutetia in 2010. However, its primary objective is to perform a series of detailed investigations on the characteristics of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that will approach the Sun in 2014 and will escort it until the end of 2015. The ROSETTA spacecraft is made up of an orbiter, with the sensors of the remote sensing experiments, and a lander named PHILAE that will be released on the surface of the comet and perform a series of measurements of the physical characteristics of the surface and will study the internal structure of the nucleus.
The main scientific objective of the mission is the understanding of the origin of comets and the relationship between their composition and interstellar matter as essential elements for going back to the origins of the Solar System. The search for unaltered materials will be done through comet exploration since the external area of the Solar System contains material rich in volatile substances that have not been processed in the internal areas characterised by high temperatures. The exploration of the comet consists in the characterization of its nucleus and tail, the determination of its dynamic properties, the study of its morphology and composition. In particular, the study of mineralogy and isotope relationships in the volatile and refractory elements of the nucleus will supply precious information on the composition of the nebula that in current models was at the origin of the Solar System. In order to reach these objectives the spacecraft will orbit a long time around the comet, following it in its journey toward the interior of the planetary system. The Philae lander will enable performing in situ measurements and to sample material at the surface of the nucleus for a detailed chemical-mineralogy analysis.
Italian participation to the ROSETTA mission is made up of three scientific instruments of the orbiter. VIRTIS (Visual InfraRed and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) whose PI is Dr. Angioletta Coradini of the INAF-IFSI (Rome), GIADA (Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator) whose PI is Dr. Luigi Colangeli of INAF-OAC (Naples), and WAC (Wide Angle Camera) of OSIRIS of Prof. Cesare Barbieri of the Università di Padova (PI Dr. Uwe Keller, MP Institute fur Sonnensystem). On board the lander, the acquisition and distributions of samples system (SD2) is Italian. It was produced by Galileo Avionica and its PI is Prof. Amalia Ercoli Finzi of the Politecnico of Milan (Milan Polytechnical Insitute). Italian as well is the solar panel subsystem (Politecnico di Milano). Italy supplied manpower to the Lander Project Team.
Concerning the Philae lander, it is made up of an international consortium in which ASI takes part. In addition to the realizing the SD2 and the Solar Array (SA), ASI has co-managed the project through a Deputy Project Manager, has participated in the Steering Committee and supplies support for lander operations at system and subsystem levels.