To Steins and beyond
"Steins might be small, but we’re making big science here", said Dr David Southwood, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. "The better we learn to know the different kinds of asteroids, the better we will understand our origins in the past. Moreover, when such Solar System wanderers escape from the belt they could become a threat to Earth. The better we know them, the better we will be able to mitigate the risks some of them might present in the future."Rosetta performed very well all along," Southwood continued. "This was a complex manoeuvre to keep such a small target in sight, but the spacecraft came through with flying colours. Now we are even more confident in its capacity to conduct the complex tasks that await it at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.Science observations of Steins will continue until 10 September.Since its launch by an Ariane 5 rocket on 2 March 2004, Rosetta has already travelled about 3.7 thousand million kilometres and swung by the Earth twice and Mars once for gravity-assist manoeuvres. On 17 December this year Rosetta will reach the maximum distance from the Sun in its current orbit, and will then head back towards Earth for the next and last gravitational kick from our planet on 13 November 2009. This will give the probe its final push toward its cometary target.On its way, Rosetta is scheduled to conduct another flyby, this time with the much larger (21) Lutetia asteroid, on 10 July 2010. Arrival at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is due by mid-2014. By that time the probe will have covered a distance of about 6.5 thousand million kilometres.