Europe to the conquest of comets: Commissioner Busquin welcomes Rosetta launch

March 3, 2004

Brussels, 2 March 2004

Today the European Space Agency's "Rosetta" comet-intercept spacecraft was launched in Kourou, French Guyana. European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin welcomed the lift-off of this exciting project. Rosetta sets off on what will be a ten year journey through our solar system to meet up with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft will find out more about comet nuclei, take images of the comet itself and release a lander onto its surface. For the first time in history, a comet travelling sunwards will be investigated from close quarters. Rosetta was developed as part of a European Space Agency programme and was built by an industrial team involving more than 50 contractors from 14 European countries and the United States.

"The launch of Rosetta from the European Space Port in French Guyana shows what Europe is capable of in space: the ability to send an interplanetary probe into space to land on a comet in 2014, "said Commissioner Busquin. "This has never been undertaken before. Science and exploratory missions are of great importance to maintaining Europe's leading role in space. Alongside the upcoming integration of the Russian "Soyuz" rockets in Kourou, we take another step towards becoming a globally responsible space power."

Boldly Exploring Space Frontiers

Rosetta, along with the successful Mars Express orbiter, is among the key missions now pushing Europe to the forefront of space exploration. The launch also marks another in a series of successes for both intra-European and global co-operation. The European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) are now working more closely than ever under a new Framework Agreement. The Rosetta mission brought together an industrial team involving more than 50 contractors from 14 European countries and the United States. Meanwhile, Russian "Soyuz" rockets will soon be launched from Kourou under a new agreement between the ESA and Russia.

Taking off

Rosetta lifted off from the European Spaceport launch complex in Kourou, French Guyana, in the early hours of this morning. After a long journey Rosetta will head to its final encounter with Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

Revealing the comet's inner secrets

Comets have fascinated human beings from time immemorial. The "Giotto" Probe, another ESA project launched in 1986, had a close look at Halley's Comet. The probe succeeded in taking 100-metre-resolution pictures of the nucleus of the Comet from only 600 kilometres away.

The pictures showed that it resembles a lump of icy sludge and that the solid part of the nucleus is much larger than the icy part. Rosetta is set to further unlock the secrets of comets.

Reaching for the stars

Projects like Rosetta show the real benefits of the European Space Policy. It offers valuable tools that are contributing to the achievement of many Union objectives €- at an affordable cost and with greater efficiency. The European space strategy strengthens economic growth, job creation and competitiveness, reaching ever closer to the March 2000 Lisbon European Council objectives of turning Europe into the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. It will also hopefully make a success of enlargement by supporting cohesion, and economic, industrial and technological growth throughout all Member States.

For further information on European space policy:

For further information on Rosetta see

For more on ESA Science missions see

DN: IP/04/286 Date: 02/03/2004

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