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.
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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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