May Lecture 2016

“European Space Agency – Rosetta Mission”

Thursday 12th May 2016

Lecture Starts at 6.00 pm

Speaker: Dr Paolo Ferri, Head of the Mission Operations Department at the ESA

Venue: Conference Room – Restaurant, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, Cambridge Airport, Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8RX (SATNAV: CB5 8RY)

Due to increased security at Marshall, it is necessary for all visitors to pre-register;
All visitors are advised to bring a  copy of their passport along to the lecture. Please note: Non-British visitors are kindly requested to e-mail a copy of their passport in advance of the lecture to

Parking is available in Cambridge Airport Visitors Car Park (including Disabled Parking in front of ‘Arrival and Departure’ entrance).
Access to Conference Room is via Cambridge Airport ‘Arrival and Departure’ entrance situated in Visitors Car Park.

Lecture Synopsis

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. 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. The Rosetta orbiter mission continued and is still on-going, observing and measuring the comet nucleus during its journey around the Sun. The mission will be terminated in September 2016, after more than two years of science operations, with a planned “touch down of the spacecraft onto the surface of the comet.

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 2014 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 Philae’s landing, on 12th November, to observe the nucleus, identify potential landing sites, develop a landing strategy and select the final candidate. 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 lecture will briefly summarize the objectives of the mission and the most important milestones of the 10 year interplanetary cruise, before concentrating on the most spectacular and critical events: the arrival at the comet, the challenges of developing the comet model while orbiting it, and of course the landing. An overview of the scientific operations around the comet and of the future plans will be provided, including the upcoming activities for the termination of this extremely challenging and unique space mission.