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Flying From the Sun on Gossamer Wings

        (From a JPL-NASA press release 03 Jul 2002)The Rosetta spacecraft spread its wings like a solar-powered butterfly as engineers at the European SpaceResearch and Technology Centre in the Netherlands putit through its paces. Delicate preflight tests checked various arrays and booms that will be extended fromthe cube-shaped body of the Rosetta orbiter during its eight-yeartrek for a look at Comet Wirtanen.
        Two giant solar wings will power Rosetta throughout a 10-year mission to deep space and back. These wings, each of which spreads 14 meters (roughly 14 yards!) spread, are covered with more than 22,000 specially developedsilicon cells that will continue to operate in the deep cold of deep space and draw power from the tiny amounts of sunlight that reach five times the Earth's distance from the Sun.
        Rosetta stretched first one wing — the 'minus-y' array, located to the left of the dish-shaped high gain antenna, — then the other, the 'plus-y' array on the oppositeside of the spacecraft.At a command from the space craft, the six Kevlar cables that keep the wings folded during launch were cut, one after the other, by "thermal knives" were cut by heating them to a temperature of several hundreds of degreesCelsius. When the sixth cable was severed, the array began to unfold until the five panels ineach array gradually extended to full length acrossthe clean room where the test took place. The weight of the arrays was supported by a mass compensation device equipped with dozens of springs that simulate the zero gravity conditions of outer space. Tests went very well and there was a big round ofapplause when they were completed.
        What's next? More planning and more tests are underway as the launch program moves forward.

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