The European Space Agency postponed the launch of the Rosetta orbiter for a second day in a row on Friday, but scientists are optimistic of succeeding in the unprecedented attempt to land a spacecraft on a comet.
Europe has until March 17 to launch its Rosetta comet chaser.
The European Space Agency's three-ton Rosetta orbiter once again failed to take off on Friday morning after a chunk of insulation fell off the rocket during a routine inspection of the launch pad.
Fearing that ice could form over the hole left in the
insulation and strike part of the rocket if it broke off
after launch, scientists decided to repair the damage and
aim instead for a launch on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.
The postponement is the third for the mission after Rosetta's first scheduled launch in January 2003 was scratched because of technical problems with the carrier rocket. On Thursday high winds delayed the launch.
"Of course we are all disappointed not to see the launch
today, but that is life in this business, Gaele Winters,
the European Space Agency's director of operational and
technical support, said at mission control in Darmstadt,
south of Frankfurt on Friday. "The spacecraft Rosetta is in good shape and was not affected by these events," he said.
The Europeans have until March 17 to launch the orbiter before the window of opportunity closes. After that it may be years before they get another chance to make history by landing on a comet.
Artist's impression of Rosetta approaching comet.
Previous exploration of comets has been limited to fly-bys. Scientists are therefore eagerly awaiting results from Rosetta and its probe Philae, which is scheduled to touch down on Churymov-Gerasimenko in November 2014.
They believe comets -- orbiting clusters of frozen gas and dust which date back to the beginning of the solar system -- may contain vital clues as to how the solar system was formed and maybe even how life itself began on Earth. Some astrophysicists contend that comets' complex molecules may have brought the building blocks for life to Earth when they bombarded the planet in its infancy.
The race to discover what makes a comet has been underway for the past decade: