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Micro Lander Powers Up For Magnetic Field Test As Rosetta Taps The Brakes While Passing Mars

Rosetta represented during closest approach to Mars. Credits: ESA - C. Carreau
by Staff Writers
Paris, France (ESA) Feb 26, 2007
In addition to acquiring incredible images of Mars during the planetary swingby earlier today, Rosetta and its lander Philae continue returning data from the Red Planet. The ROMAP instrument on board Philae measured the intensity of the peculiar magnetic field of Mars around closest approach.

Philae's ROMAP (Rosetta Lander Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor) instrument aims ultimately to study the local magnetic field of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and examine the intensity of the magnetic interaction between the comet and the solar wind in three spatial dimensions ('3D').

The cometary magnetic environment is similar to that of Mars. Mars doesn't have a global planetary magnetic field protecting it from the solar wind. Its complex and 'disturbed' magnetic environment is - in very simplified terms - the result of the combination of the weak magnetosphere surrounding the planet, under continuous attack from the solar wind, with the local magnetic spots (anomalies) that characterise the planet's crust.

The graph presented in this article plots time on the horizontal axis versus intensity of the magnetic field on the vertical axis. It shows how the magnetic environment of Mars becomes complex when the solar wind, initially proceeding unperturbed at supersonic speed (left of the image), encounters the boundary region of the magnetosphere (bow shock), gets decelerated to subsonic speed and becomes turbulent. The turbulence continues in the 'tail' of the planet's magnetosphere (right of the image).

These measurements are very important as they show how well the ROMAP instrument is performing. This data set is also almost unique, as the trajectory that Rosetta followed during the Mars swingby is very different from those usually followed by other spacecraft orbiting Mars: only the Russian probe Phobos-2 provided a similar insight into the plasma environment around Mars from this special viewpoint in space.

Stunning view of Rosetta skimming past Mars
This stunning view, showing portions of the Rosetta spacecraft with Mars in the background, was taken by the Rosetta Lander Imaging System (CIVA) on board Rosetta's Philae lander just four minutes before the spacecraft reached closest approach to the Red Planet earlier this morning.

While the Rosetta orbiter instruments were switched off as planned during several hours around closest approach, which occurred at 03:15 CET today, some of the lander instruments were operational and collected data from Mars.

This incredible CIVA image was taken about 1000 kilometres from the planet's surface. A portion of the spacecraft and one of its solar arrays are visible in nice detail. Beneath, an area close to the Syrtis region is visible on the planet's disk.

Philae lander in first autonomous operation
This is the first time that the Philae lander operated in a totally autonomous mode, completely relying on the power of its own batteries. This will be the case when the lander will have touched down on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014 and will have to perform its scientific measurements independently from the Rosetta orbiter.

A sequence of observations from today's Mars close approach were run successfully, providing an important test for the science observations of the comet nucleus to come. In addition to CIVA, the ROMAP instrument was also switched on, collecting data about the magnetic environment of Mars. The data sets acquired by both instruments are unique, as the presented image summarises for CIVA.

The Philae lander still has still a long route ahead to ensure success for its highly challenging venture, which requires a safe landing on an unknown icy body, and performing a very complex programmed sequence of operations in a highly constrained environment.

A number of updates and validation of some systems and instruments are still required, which should be implemented during the upcoming cruise phase and the Earth swingby in November 2007.

Related Links
ESA's comet chaser: Rosetta
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Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
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Introducing The Coolest Spacecraft In The Universe
Cannes, France (SPX) Feb 21, 2007
The European Space Agency's (ESA) Planck mission, which will study the conditions present in our Universe shortly after the Big Bang, is reaching an important milestone with the integration of instruments into the satellite at Alcatel Alenia Space in Cannes, France. Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive Officer of PPARC, who fund the UK involvement in the mission, said,







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