Oxford company behind laboratory on comet probe 250 million miles away

Oxford company behind laboratory on comet probe 250 million miles away (Pic: PA)

Oxford company behind laboratory on comet probe 250 million miles away (Pic: PA)

First published in News
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A mini-laboratory designed and built by Harwell-based RAL Space and The Open University is due to reach an icy comet today.

Mission controllers in Germany are preparing for the crucial six minute 26 second thruster burn that will set the Rosetta probe into orbit around the two-mile (3.2km) wide object at 10am.

It marks the end of the probe’s 10 year journey to the comet which is 250m miles away.

Rosetta’s destination, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is a misshapen lump of ice and dust swinging in a wide circuit round the Sun at around 34,175 mph.

The mini-laboratory will analyse grain samples from the comet and answer questions about its origins.

Professor Richard Holdaway, director of RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: “This is an historic and hugely exciting moment for the Rosetta Mission.

“We are very proud of our involvement and eagerly anticipate receiving the first results.”

For the next 17 months Rosetta, a box-like structure just under 10 feet long with two wing-like solar panels, will remain close to the comet as it heads towards the Sun and heats up, throwing out increasing amounts of gas and dust.

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