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Space

Lockheed Martin Space Instrument To Study Role Of Comets In Formation Of Solar System

PALO ALTO, Calif., February 23rd, 2004 -- The Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, Calif. designed and built key components for ROSINA -- the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis -- an instrument ready for launch on Feb. 26, 2004 on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft. The goal of the international mission is to rendezvous, orbit, and land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, in an effort to answer questions about the origin of our Solar System.

"Rosetta carries more instruments than any previous scientific spacecraft -- that makes it challenging and one of the most exciting missions ever," said Dr. Claudia Alexander, U.S. Project Scientist for the mission and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientist. "We anticipate major discoveries, just like Galileo and Cassini."

Comets are icy preserves of the material present during the formation of the solar system. Ground-based studies show strong indications that beneath the surface, complex organic molecules, such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen reside. These elements make up nucleic and amino acids, which are essential for creating life. Scientists have long wondered if life on Earth was spawned by a chance comet encounter, and Lockheed Martin helped develop ROSINA with the University of Bern and other institutions to pursue the answer.

ESA's spacecraft aims to be the Rosetta Stone of the solar system -- the decipherer of the many secrets comets hold in their cores -- and is named for the historic Rosetta Stone, the key to decoding the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Only an instrument like the one designed by the international team including Lockheed Martin could test the various theories regarding comets' physical and chemical composition, mass, surface and evolution.

ROSINA will perform composition analysis on the Rosetta mission, utilizing a mass spectrometer that uses electric and magnetic fields to map the mass of an ion to its chemical composition. ROSINA will also analyze particles in the comet's atmosphere by mass, physical and chemical composition, temperature, and velocity. Such data will yield important insights about the formation, position and origin of comets, and the similarities between cometary and interstellar material present during the birth of the solar system.

The highest resolution mass spectrometer ever flown, ROSINA will measure the isotopes Carbon 12 and Carbon 13, which differ by a single neutron, and are used in carbon dating to determine the ages of organisms.

"The Carbon 12 to Carbon 13 ratio in a comet tells us about the material that was present in the dense interstellar medium that formed our Sun. Only comets have this information frozen within them," said Dr. Stephen Fuselier of Lockheed Martin's ATC and U.S. lead co-investigator for the ROSINA instrument.

"One of the mission's most exciting pieces of information will come from the ROSINA instrument," said Alexander. "ROSINA will perform carbon dating on the comet's nucleus. One of the things that we don't know is whether comets were part of our solar system in the beginning. Determining the age of this comet's surface will help us to discover their role in solar system formation and whether they brought particles in from the outside."

"ROSINA will also determine the metal content of the interstellar medium that formed our Sun by using the Carbon 12 and 13, and carbon monoxide and nitrogen ratios found inside comets," said Fuselier. "If it is very metal rich, we know our Sun is not a second generation star because the Big Bang only created hydrogen and helium. By determining the metalloids inside the comet, we can also deduce the size of the star that created our Sun."

Buddy Nelson (510) 797-0349
E-mail: buddynelson@mac.com



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