Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heavy Metal Rock Set to Take the Stage

PASADENA, Calif. On its way to a 2014 rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, with NASA instruments aboard, will fly past asteroid Lutetia this Saturday, July 10.

The instruments aboard Rosetta will record the first close up image of a metal asteroid. They will also make measurements to help scientists derive the mass of the object, understand the properties of the asteroid's surface crust, record the solar wind in the vicinity and look for evidence of an atmosphere. The spacecraft will pass the asteroid at a minimum distance of 3,160 kilometers and at a velocity of 15 kilometers per second.

"Little is known about asteroid Lutetia other than it is about 100 kilometers wide," said Claudia Alexander, project scientist for the U.S. role in the Rosetta mission, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Allowing Rosetta's suite of science instruments to focus on this target of opportunity should greatly expand our knowledge of this huge space rock, while at the same time giving the mission's science instruments a real out-of-this-world workout."

The Lutetia flyby is the final scientific milestone for Rosetta before controllers put the spacecraft into hibernation early in 2011, only to wake up in early 2014 for approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

NASA has contributed an ultraviolet instrument , a plasma instrument, a microwave instrument portions of the electronics package for the double focusing mass spectrometer of the Rosetta orbiter sensor for ion and neutral analysis , among other contributions to this international mission. NASA's Deep Space Network, managed by JPL, will be providing support for tracking and science operations.