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Artist's impression of the Rosetta lander (in new window)

Artist's impression of the Rosetta lander
© European Space Agency All rights reserved

Switzerland is closely involved with the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, launched in March 2004. It is hoped that the mission’s study of a comet will help shed light on fundamental questions such as how our solar system developed. It will take about 10 years for the spacecraft to rendezvous with its target, and go into orbit round it.

Switzerland’s contribution to this mission is ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis), one of 11 experiments which the spaceship and its lander will carry out. The ROSINA project and the three instruments to be used were developed at the University of Bern under the supervision of the Swiss Hans Balsiger, a member of the eight-strong Rosetta mission team. In the experiment, two sensors will determine the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and ionosphere, the velocities of electrified gas particles, and reactions in which they take part. ROSINA will also investigate possible asteroid outgassing (the release of gases).

The mission has been named after the Rosetta stone, which enabled scholars to decipher the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

A Swiss experiment accompanied all the NASA moon missions. It was a strip of aluminum foil that trapped particles of solar wind in order to discover the composition and density of material in the universe. The tripod on which the collector was placed, engraved with the name of Bern University, still stands on the moon.

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