There will be greater tension than usual among engineers and scientists at Europe`s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, in January 2003, as they gather to see ESA`s comet-chasing spacecraft Rosetta departing on its long journey. If it is to keep its rendezvous with Comet Wirtanen in 2012, Rosetta must lift off on its Ariane-5 launcher no sooner than 03:40 CET on 13 January 2003 and no later than the end of that month.
This span of suitable dates is called a launch window. For interplanetary missions, such windows are much stricter than for satellites orbiting the Earth. To send a spacecraft from the ever-moving Earth to a planet or a comet following another course through space is highly complicated. Timing is everything. Before it can meet Comet Wirtanen, far out in space, Rosetta first has a series of planetary appointments to keep. With each close fly-by of a planet, it receives an energy boost because of the planet`s gravitational pull. The spacecraft is due to pass by Mars in August 2005, then do high-speed fly-bys of the Earth in November 2005 and November 2007.
In a way, Rosetta is like a passenger on a train journey involving several changes. Unless the first train leaves right on time, with the spacecraft on-board, it will miss the later connections. If it departed after 31 January 2003, Rosetta would be unable to reach the target comet.
"The cosmic clock of the Solar System fixed our launch date when Comet Wirtanen was selected as Rosetta`s target ten years ago," comments John Ellwood, project manager for the mission. "Although there are risks in a precise, rather short launch window, it`s had the advantage that everyone concerned knew there was no room for discussion - they had to be ready."
Besides the restricted span of launch dates, there is also a tight limit on the time of day at which Rosetta can leave Earth. Because the Earth rotates, Kourou must be correctly positioned in relation to the direction in which the spacecraft must head off, on the first leg of its interplanetary journey. The daily window is about 20 minutes, during which time the Earth rotates through 5 degrees.
In May 2003, similar concerns about a launch window will preoccupy the engineers and scientists of ESA`s Mars Express mission, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, in the former Soviet Union. There the launcher will be a Soyuz-Fregat rocket. Scientists have always planned to use the especially favourable relative positions of Earth and Mars occurring in mid-2003 (and not repeated until 2020) for Mars Express to have an express flight to the Red Planet.
Opportunities to fly to Mars occur every 26 months, but the travelling distance varies a lot because the orbit of Mars is elliptical, that is, egg-shaped. The 2003 opportunity coincides with a time when the Earth is about to overtake Mars, as the planets orbit around the Sun, and when Mars happens to be in the closest sector of its orbit. The Mars Express launch window opens at 20:41 CET on 23 May 2003 and closes at 17:47 CET on 21 June 2003.
Almost nothing in space stands still with respect to Earth, so ESA`s scientists will have to be careful that their craft, Rosetta, leaves Earth at the right time and in the right way. The spacecraft has a long trip ahead.
Monica Talevi | AlphaGalileo
Basque researchers turn light upside down
23.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa
Attoseconds break into atomic interior
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy