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 Pulses of electrons manipulate nanomagnets and store information
21.07.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion
21.07.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

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: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>