With today’s BBC report on Major Tim Peake’s preparations for being the next UK astronaut in space, it is worth re-visiting another big space story with UK connections that occurred week – the awakening of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) “Rosetta” space mission.
In August 2014, the ESA mission will seek to become the first spacecraft to attempt a landing on a comet surface – with ‘Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’ selected as the lucky contestant.
Such a complex and technical mission (as well as being the first to attempt such a feat) shows just how far the ESA’s capabilities have developed over the last few decades; but also how integral UK industry technology now is to their missions. In the Rosetta mission alone, not only has the UK provided a wheel that will help stabilise the Philae probe on landing, but the Ptolemy instrument on lander has been built in the UK and will seek to analyse the comet’s gases and compare water ice found on the comet with water bodies on earth.
With one of the overarching objectives of this mission being to examine the composition and structure of the comet nucleus material in order to gain greater understanding about how complex organic molecules required for life could have been brought to earth by comets, the UK should be proud of its role at the very heart of one of the world’s most exciting and challenging space projects.