Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Plasma probe scientists ready for Rosetta blast-off

14.01.2003


Scientists who built and will control the instruments to investigate plasma changes around a comet describe their contribution to the ten year long mission at a pre-launch press briefing in London.



While the actual launch date for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission has yet to be confirmed, the scientists, engineers and technicians behind the plasma-detecting instruments on board the spacecraft are all ready to begin the journey to comet Wirtanen they hope will return a rich scientific bounty.

"We’re not very familiar with plasma here on Earth, but it does exist all around us, for example, in fluorescent lights or the flame of a match. It’s simply a gas which has become electrically charged," says Chris Carr, spokesman for the Rosetta Plasma Consortium instruments, based at Imperial College London.


"Outside the confines of our atmosphere on earth, the vacuum of space is filled with a very, very dilute plasma - maybe only a thousand atoms in each litre of space."

The Rosetta Plasma Consortium has built highly sensitive instruments capable of detecting and measuring the properties of this diffuse plasma.

The sensors will be switched on well before the cameras are able to see any activity on the surface of the comet, making it likely that plasma instruments will be one of the first to detect the telltale signature of the comet.

The Plasma Consortium’s chief interest is to learn how the solar wind - a stream of plasma that flows out from the Sun and fills the Solar System - interacts with the comet itself.

"A lot of the gas which comes off the comet is actually turned into plasma by the action of the strong ultra-violet light from the Sun," explains Mr Carr.

"So there is a source of plasma pushing outwards from the comet which meets the solar wind head on, producing a ’bubble’ of comet plasma in a sea of solar wind."

The plasma instruments will study the structure of this bubble, which measures about a million kilometres wide, and compares with a nucleus size of the comet of just one kilometre.

"One of the things we’re really excited about is that we will be monitoring the comet over a long period of time, so we will be able to watch as the comet activity goes from nothing to a really strong outflow of material," says Mr Carr.

The plasma instruments weigh just over 7kg, and because Rosetta is far out in deep space, with very little sunlight shining on the solar panels, have been designed to consume less than a quarter of the power of a single light bulb.

The plasma investigation will be carried out by a group of five instruments built by space researchers from Sweden, Germany, France, USA and the UK.

Scientists at Imperial College London built the Plasma Interface Unit - the ’nervous system’ - that links up the five ultra-sensitive plasma-detecting probes aboard Rosetta (See notes to editors).

Assuming a successful Rosetta launch before the end of January 2003, theirs will be the first scientific instrument to be turned on at the ’commissioning’ stage due to take place from February at the European Space Agency operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The PIU itself weighs about 3kg and is the size of two shoe boxes on top of each other, and has been the focus of a number of technical innovations.

"Developing this unit, the ’nervous system’ for the plasma instruments, was a constant balancing act between miniaturisation to save space and weight and maintaining its reliability to give continuous operation in space for ten years," says Dr Chris Lee, Rosetta Plasma Consortium Operations Manager, based at Imperial College London.

For example, the walls of the box were machined down from sheets of aluminium 2.54 centimetres (an inch) thick to just 0.3mm in places - a machining task that required a new technical innovation from Ray Swain, head of the Department of Physics workshops, as standard techniques left the metal warped.

Scientists from Imperial’s Space and Atmospheric Physics Group have extensive experience in building and operating plasma instruments aboard space missions including those that have flown on the Cluster mission around Earth, the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Double Star mission around Earth and the Ulysses mission to the Sun.

The Imperial team behind the PIU was recently promoted from Co-Investigator to Principal Investigator status.

Contact: Tom Miller
e-mail: t.miller@imperial.ac.uk

Tom Miller | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum phenomena in graphene superlattices
19.09.2017 | Graphene Flagship

nachricht Solar wind impacts on giant 'space hurricanes' may affect satellite safety
19.09.2017 | Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

Im Focus: Silencing bacteria

HZI researchers pave the way for new agents that render hospital pathogens mute

Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...

Im Focus: Artificial Enzymes for Hydrogen Conversion

Scientists from the MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion report in the first issue of the new journal JOULE.

Cell Press has just released the first issue of Joule, a new journal dedicated to sustainable energy research. In this issue James Birrell, Olaf Rüdiger,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

New quantum phenomena in graphene superlattices

19.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A simple additive to improve film quality

19.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>