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Rosetta spacecraft Attached to Its Launch Hardware.

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Rosetta Spacecraft.
Rosetta Spacecraft: Image credit: Arianespace.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft was mated to launch hardware that will eventually be connected to the top of its Ariane 5, in preparation for its February 26 launch. If all goes well, Rosetta will blast off from the space centre in Kourou, French Guiana and begin its long journey to meet up with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. The launch will give the 3,000 kg spacecraft enough velocity to make its escape trajectory, but it will still need to make two gravity assisting flybys of Earth, and one past Mars to get enough speed to reach the comet.

Preparations for Flight 158 entered a new phase this week as the mission's Rosetta payload made its initial contact with hardware from the Ariane 5 launcher.

This activity occurred in the Spaceport's S3B clean room, where Rosetta was positioned on a cone-shaped adapter that serves as the interface structure between the deep-space probe and Ariane 5.

Rosetta is now ready for its transfer to the Ariane 5 Final Assembly building, where the probe will be encapsulated in its protective payload fairing and then installed atop the launch vehicle.

Liftoff of Flight 158 is set for the early morning hours of February 26 from the Spaceport's ELA-3 launch complex. Instead of a typical launch window used for missions geostationary satellite payloads, Flight 158 has two specific launch slots: one at 49 seconds past 4:16 a.m., and the other at 49 seconds past 4:36 a.m.

Duration of Flight 158 also is unusual for an Ariane 5 mission. After a standard separation of the two solid booster stages and burnout of the central core stage, the Ariane 5's EPS upper stage will enter a prolonged ballistic phase, followed by its ignition at almost 2 hours after liftoff. Rosetta will be separated from the stage approximately 14 minutes later, embarking on an Earth escape trajectory that will lead to its encounter with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

Rosetta uses a cubic-shaped spacecraft bus built by Astrium in Germany, and has a liftoff mass of about 3,000 kg. The comet-intercept was under responsibility of the European Space Agency and will include the deployment of a small lander to the surface of Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Original Source: Arianespace News Release

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