Monday, February 26, 2007

Our enormously challenging adventure...

Jean-Pierre Bibring, the co-Lead Scientist for the Philae Lander and Principal Investigator for the Philae/CIVA, responsable for one of the most inspiring space images ever that almost led me to drown myself by drooling, answers some spacEurope questions.

For future images and milestones, with a team as this and a mission like that I’d better get me a life vest...

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I know that size doesn't matter but am I exagerating by saying that CIVA surpassed all the expectations we had from a camera onboard such a small lander as Philae?

As a whole, Philae is a jewel, and one has hard times to realize the level of technical and scientific treasures it incorporates, at system and instrument level. CIVA is just an example. Just one figure: when on the comet, in terribly drastic environment (full vacuum, mean temperature much below -100°C), the entire vehicle, with all systems and instruments, will have a total power to live, operate, drill samples,acquire data, transmit them, less than 10W, which is less than the small light bulb in your fridge. As for CIVA, and for the first time, we developed microcameras some tens of grams only, with performances equal to much much larger systems; data processing is within electronics more than 10 times lighter than previously flown etc. The achieved resolution and sensitivity while mapping Mars is indeed astonishing, and just equal to the "nominal" expected built-in one. However, to have such an image taken requires a fantastic combination of coupled activities, where the CIVA imaging is just one part: activities at Lander level, at Rosetta level, with cooperation of a great variety of extremely skilled and committed colleagues : this is for me the main message here.

What can the Philae team take from this successful Mars swing-by into its future goals, mainly to its mission objective, the final landing?

Both during flybys and when on the comet, most observations for us will be "one shot", as we will not have the time and/or the resources to repeat them in case of malfunctioning. Consequently, all parameters have to be optimized towards their exact tuning. Observations as that of last night does provide exactly this: beyond its direct outcome, it significantly contributes to optimizing the operational mode that we will have to freeze for follow-on activities.

Can you tell me what was the nature of the data acquired with ROMAP?

Yes, ROMAP did a splendid and unique monitoring of the magnetic environment of Mars as a function of the altitude, exhibiting all major structures with a huge sensitivity and direct scientific outcomes.

What was your, and your team, reaction when seing this image that seems to be coming out directly from space exploration aficionados wildest dreams?

Prior to the technical success assessment, as you the reaction was primarily a profound, profound emotion, coupling a man-built object to a remote and exciting target of exploration in an highly impressive nutshell. And I must admit that I am still in this moving mood...

What will be the work done untill the next milestone?

To use all follow-on flight opportunities to upgrade, test, validate operational modes for all systems and instruments on board (and there is a huge demand on this side), to increase robustness and optimize our chance of success, for our enormously challenging adventure...

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