The Rosetta Story

DLD conference

Andrea Accomazzo is the Head of the Solar and Planetary Missions Division. He was in charge of the robotic space probe Rosetta, which performed the first soft landing on a comet and returned data from the surface.

Space missions are about managing exploration and Rosetta was a large exploration project. It was the first landing on a comet in the space missions' history. But comets are nothing new. People looked at comets centuries ago. To discover and explain the mysteries of the sky is part of the human being.

Andrea Accomazzo explained the long and risky way from the launch of the Rosetta mission 10 years ago until today. It took 10 years to reach the target, the comet. Managing this huge exploration means to manage a huge risk. Rosetta is getting the energy from the sun, but sometimes it was too far away for some sunlight. That means the computer had no power. Only the planets and their gravitation were helpful.

This mission was full of unexpected events, Andrea said. Years of preparing for the unknown was part of the job. The job was more like predicting the future, to think out of the box for calculating the orbits of the potatoe-shaped comet. A lot of things were not known before and the wanted to land on a comet! The mission were better than expected and planed after landing on the planet.

If you design for the future put the engine in the middle. The engine of the Rosetta mission are the people. Well, put the humans in the middle! Andrea's advice is not only working for space missions. After 18 years working on the whole mission he has a lot of tips to share.

For Andrea it was 18 years of planning, 10 years since launch of the Rosetta mission: it means old tech to deal with. Rosetta's computer is from the late 1980's, only 1 MB RAM. It's definitely tough to work under such circumstances and to think out of the box not knowing the comet exactly. You can't easily change the target, comets you can't get on every corner. But the people worked with passion on the project. The faced their problems and solved it - but now they have to sit and wait. The Philae lander is in sleep mode. It's winter on the comet and Philae don't get sunlight for its computer. The ESA expect sunlight in June or July and hopefully Philae is waking up again and send some signals home to Earth.

Over all it was not an expensive space mission if you calculate it over time (1 Billion Euros, 20 years) and the team dreamed big, they had a goal, they took the existing technology and dealt with it over a long time - a fantastic message: have fun and work together. And it doesn't matter where you are coming from. The ESA is already doing European projects, what an inspiration for other companies all over Europe!

What about the Mars mission? Mars? I wouldn't yet go to it, Andrea said. But sometimes we will be able to fly to the Mars, we will come back, and maybe we will settle down. There is water on it and water can become fuel, fuel for new industries and life on Mars.

Mentioned in this live blog

Esther Dyson
Executive Founder
New York
Andrea accomazzo bw
Andrea Accomazzo
European Space Agency (ESA)
Head of the Solar and Planetary Missions Division
European Space Agency (ESA)

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