Tuesday 20 February 2018

Irish firms will take leading role in historic landing mission

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as photographed by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera from a distance of 285 km
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as photographed by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera from a distance of 285 km

Sam Griffin

TWO Irish companies will play a central role when spacecraft Rosetta finally lands on a comet and then sends information back to earth.

The landing part of the comet chaser, called the Philae, is scheduled to detach and land on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 11 at which point it will conduct a series of experiments looking at the make-up of the comet.

It is believed clues to the origins of life on Earth could be revealed in these experiments.

"My first involvement in the Rosetta mission began some 20 years ago when I was invited to undertake the design, construction and testing of the Electrical Support System (ESS) for Rosetta," Susan McKenna Lawlor, a Professor at NUI Maynooth, told the Irish Independent.

"This system is defined to be 'mission critical hardware' which means it is required to handle the communications between the spacecraft and the 10 experiments aboard the Lander Philae on the comet's surface."

She said the lander would capture panoramic images of the comet's surface while another experiment, called COSAC, would drill into the comet's surface which she described as 'first-time activities in history'.

"Nobody has ever tried to land on the nucleus of a comet before." She added: "The comet has retained the composition that it had at the time the solar system was formed so it will give us a lot of insight into solar system formation."

Another company, CAPTEC, which is based in Malahide, wrote the software that allows the lander to communicate with the orbiter.

They were also responsible for "double-checking" there were no faults with the craft's on-board computer.

"It's quite incredible that the work we did for this mission was completed 10 years ago or more," CAPTEC's managing director Jon Kennedy said.

"We're working today for things that won't happen for many, many years to come."

Irish Independent

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