This lecture was recording live for the AeroSociety Channel, and the recording can be viewed here.
The International Rosetta Mission was launched on 2nd March 2004 on its 10 year journey to rendezvous with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta finally reached its target comet in August 2014. Since then it has been orbiting its nucleus at distances down to 8 km from the surface. On 12th November 2014 it delivered a small lander, Philae, onto the surface of the comet. Philae survived the landing and operated for about 2.5 days on the surface, before running out of battery power.
Rosetta is the first mission in the history of spaceflight to rendezvous with a comet nucleus and drop a lander module onto its surface. The landing event attracted the attention of the whole world and the mission was nominated among the top scientific events of the year by scientific journals and magazines like Science, Physics World and Nature.
From an operations engineering point of view the challenges of this mission were enormous. Flying in the proximity of the nucleus required the development of an accurate model of the comet and the forces acting on the spacecraft that it generates. This had to be done while the spacecraft was already flying in this unknown environment, a highly risky and unconventional way of flying in space. Rosetta had very little time from the moment of arrival in proximity of the comet, in early August, to the moment of landing, on 12th November, to observe the nucleus, identify potential landing sites, develop a landing strategy and select the final candidate. This was the first interplanetary mission in history that had no information whatsoever about its landing site before starting, and had to select it based on the its own collected images and data. The landing operations at a distance of 511 million kilometers from Earth had to be fully automated and programmed on the basis of predictions from several hours before the event. This required extremely accurate navigation of the Rosetta spacecraft and a series of extremely critical operations close to the separation of Philae from the mother spacecraft.
This lecture provided an update on the Rosetta mission after the lecture delivered at the Society in June 2014, prior to the landing. It briefly summarized the objectives of the mission and the most important milestones of the 10 year flight, before concentrating on the most recent events: the arrival at the comet, the challenges of developing the comet model while orbiting it, and of course the landing. The exciting operations on the day of the landing and over the 2.5 days on the surface were presented, together with an overview of the future activities of this extremely challenging and unique space mission.
About the speaker:
Andrea began his career at the Academy of the Italian Air Force and completed basic training as a military pilot between 1989 and 1991. After this he continued his engineering studies at the Politecnico di Milano and graduated in Aerospace Engineering in 1995.
Between 1995 and 1999 he worked at Fiat Avio, where he mainly focused on the Vega launch vehicle and Rosetta lander. He then joined ESA in 1999 as Rosetta operations engineer at ESOC. After having launched Rosetta in 2004, he became Spacecraft Operations Manager for Venus Express, which was launched in 2005 and inserted in Venus orbit in 2006. At the end of 2006 he returned to Rosetta as Spacecraft Operations Manager, a role that he kept till earlier this year after Rosetta completed the hibernation phase.
Since 2013 he has also been Head of the Solar and Planetary Missions Division in the Mission Operations Department at ESOC, as well as the Ground Segment Manager for all missions in development (Bepi Colombo, Solar Orbiter, Juice, Exomars) and the Flight Director for Rosetta.