Brussels, 22 Jan 2004
The Rosetta mission, Europe's bid to land a spacecraft on the surface of a comet, is in difficulty again, after technical concerns were raised about the flight readiness of the Ariane rocket to be used in the launch.
However, both the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace, the rocket's manufacturers, insist that the faults are not major and that they still plan to launch from the Kourou spaceport in French Guyana on 26 February.
Professor David Southwood, head of science at ESA, told the BBC that two 'open technical items' related to 'the mechanical behaviour of the system as it takes off and the mechanical structure of the boosters' have yet to be resolved.
Professor Southwood added: 'I have no indication that they won't be resolved [and] I will be astonished if we don't go ahead.'
A statement by Arianespace confirmed that: 'Today, the launch vehicle is undergoing preparation in Kourou and we are all getting ready to launch Rosetta on 26 February.'
Originally, Rosetta had been scheduled to blast off in January 2003 and rendezvous with Comet Wirtanen, but that plan was scrapped when an enhanced version of the Ariane 5 rocket exploded soon after launch in December 2002.
The mission had to be redesigned and a new target, Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was found for Rosetta. If the launch goes ahead as planned, the spacecraft should reach the comet in 2014.
For further information about the Rosetta mission, please consult the following web address: