Rosetta, photonics, and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Nov. 12, 2014
The historic landing  on the Comet 67P/CG by the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft is producing a flood of images and data--and many of these result from onboard scientific instruments based on optics, image sensors, spectrometers, and other photonics tools.   
Conard 720

The historic landing by an ESA spacecraft on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after the 10-year voyage to the rendezvous, is producing a flood of images and data--and many of these result from photonics-based scientific instruments aboard the Rosetta spacecraft and its lander, Philae.

You can find great minute by minute coverage of the mission from sites like The New York Times and The Guardian. The European Space Agency has an excellent site with all the news, history, images, and video you could ask for:

Optics, image sensors, and spectrometers are the primary photonics tools and we'll be providing more details on their design and results in the coming months. Of the 11 scientific instruments aboard the Rosetta orbiter, 3 are clearly based on optics:

ALICE (Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer) analyses gases in the coma and tail and measures the comet's production rates of water and carbon monoxide/dioxide. It also provides information on the surface composition of the nucleus. Principal Investigator: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, USA.

OSIRIS (Optical, Spectrocopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) has a wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera that can obtain high-resolution images of the comet’s nucleus. Principal Investigator: Holger Sierks, Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) maps and studies the nature of the solids and the temperature on the surface of the nucleus. Also identifies comet gases, characterizes the physical conditions of the coma, and helps to identify the best landing sites. Principal Investigator: Fabrizio Capaccioni, Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome, Italy.

Of the 10 instruments aboard the lander, Philae, these 2 stand out as photonics:

ÇIVA has six identical micro-cameras takeing panoramic pictures of the surface. A spectrometer studies the composition, texture, and albedo (reflectivity) of samples collected from the surface. Principal Investigator: Jean-Pierre Bibring, Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris Sud, Orsay, France.

ROLIS (Rosetta Lander Imaging System) is a downward-looking CCD camera that acquires images during the descent and doubles as a multispectral close-up camera after the landing. The aim of the ROLIS experiment is to study the texture and microstructure of the comet's surface. Principal Investigator: Stefano Mottola, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, Berlin, Germany.

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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