Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rosetta probe prepares for Mars flyby

Mission controllers for the European comet interception mission Rosetta are preparing the probe for a gravity assist flyby of Mars this February. The 3 ton probe is scheduled to meet comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, but requires 4 gravity assists along the way, sling-shotting around planets to gain speed. Rosetta has already completed one such manoeuvre around the Earth in 2005. The flyby will not however just be providing a push in the right direction from Mars. The probes instruments are being warmed up in preparation, and it will use its imaging system and imaging spectrometers to gather data about the surface and atmosphere of Mars and its chemical composition. It will also collect data about the atmosphere's interaction with the solar wind and the Martian radiation environment. Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, will also be imaged. For a full report, go to the ESA webpage.