Rosetta's Comet Touchdown - Report

Ágota Lang gives the lowdown on her experiences building LEGO landers - and links with planetary scientists in Hungary 

Download PDF of report

Touch the Comets! – about the project: Rosetta’s Comet Touchdown in the Széchenyi István Gimnázium (Sopron, Hungary)

Rosetta: Have Fun (from Hungary) from Lightcurve Films on Vimeo.

Since 2006 I've been doing an afternoon class in our school . The course is about robotics where students build and program robots of LEGO's Mindstorms kit. With these robots partly we are in First Lego League competition and on the other hand we take part in Hunveyor-Husar project with a Mars rover that is based on a rover model kit but its operating arms are built of Lego and it is controlled by an NXT brick. (http://www.vimeo.com/15363304) In September 2010 we had the opportunity to present our rover at EPSC. Here we met Maarten Roos who launched his project "Rosetta’s Comet Touchdown" supported by ESA, Europlanet, DLR and LEGO(http://vimeo.com/channels/rosettascomettouchdown). Unfortunately we missed the program of students from Rome who started to build the landing unit of Rosetta using Lego bricks but we got acquinted to Mr Roos. We made an agreement that beside a Portugese group from Setubal we can also test this project.

We chose class  9A for the project. Although they are only 15-16, a "hard core" of 6-8 students had already proved their skills during our preparation for FLL competition. By the time of the first video-conference in December we decided who was going to take part in which area of the project : science/missions, arts and history and building/programming. "Be creative!" and  "Have fun!" were the favourite slogans - we have got these from Maarten. The student were doing their best to fulfill both throughout the project.

As a teacher of physics and informatics I could take the science part but I had to ask for help on history-arts part. So in the end we had four leaders for the project: Csaba Robotka (history), Gabriella Nagy, Bazsóné (arts) and Mónika Stenger, Kovátsné (English). As a starting point we tried to find Hungarian specialities in the project. Since on Rosetta space probe there are many Hungarian instruments we got in touch with all the groups that built these equipments. Luckily they all reacted very kindly so at the beginning of February we visited Space Research Group at Budapest University of Technology who worked on the energy supply of the landing unit and two other teams at KFKI Campus (Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics and Atomic Energy Research Institute)  in Budapest.  The scientists gave us a short lecture about their work and their instrument and afterwards we could see the test copies.

Our History team made a research on how comets appear in Hungarian culture. The Arts team designed a T-shirt for the whole group. The Science team split up into different small groups who made research on comets themshelves or the history of observing comets or the instruments of Rosetta orbiter and Rosetta lander. The 4. group made an animation with a program “Imagine Logo” about the way of Rosetta to it’s comet.

The Lego team started to design, build and program a new landing unit. Though Lego has already developed their own lander that is in shape a perfect copy of the original and an almost perfect copy in its functions our students did not use it as a base. The legs  that make  soft and safe landing possible are based on their own creative ideas. The cabin of the unit is square shaped instead of being hexagonal and all the sensors and probes are also designed by them. To be honest we got four boxes of Lego-kits full of necessary elements and NXT – thank you very much, Lego – but they did not contain sensors typical for Philae for example. So they were forced to build an „original Hungarian” lander. With this we could measure temperature. Apart from that we also placed in a gadget for measuring gravitational acceleration and a gas-sensor that we transferred into being ”Lego-compatible”.

At the end of project the class 9A have shown the other students and teachers what they made during 2 months. I decided the date of project-day  12. April, the Day of Gagarin/Space Research. We have invited our helpers – the engineers from KFKI and from Space Research Group – but unfortunately they were busy on this day. But we have got 2 famous guests: Mr László Bacsárdi, secretary of  Hungarian Astronautical Society and  Mr Pál Bencze (DSc) from Geodetic and Geophysical Research Institute, Sopron.

For the project-day the students have made presentations – in Hungarian, of course. The endproduct of project – for Exemple a poster about the Hungarian Instruments on Rosetta -  in English coming soon!

At least you can read a report written by a non-professional person: my colleague Márta Horváth teaching English and German.

What’s an MP3 player got to do with Ham, the astrochimp, or household chores like washing up with NASA’s vision for the future? The answer is very simple: an English teacher who’s interested in science and who’s a regular and very enthusiastic listener of Science Weekly from http://www.guardian.co.uk/. I’ve been interested in space travel for a long time and for the past few months you just couldn’t miss programmes about meteorites, the Apollo 11 , Michio Kaku, the space shuttles ….

And then this project day organised by a very enthusiastic colleague of mine!

The common room was packed with her students – class 9a – wearing a lovely T-shirt with the same logos, with media people, and lots of students from our school with their teachers.

As we live in a digital world, we could see Maarten Roos via Skype, the mastermind of this project!!!!

The project day was started off with our head’s opening speech – Mr Miklós Szabó -  he himself a man of letters, interested in arts, but also fascinated by science and then a brief introduction to space travel by Mr László Bacsárdi.
 
And then SHOWTIME!!!

I attended two sessions: one presenting the LEGO Rosetta unit – as imagined by 9a – and the other telling about the traces of a comet in Hungarian history and literature, plus Rosetta’s trip in our universe, the first one being a presentation, the latter being an animated cartoon!

The project day was finished off with a funny film showing us the different stages of the preparation sequence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rx7x2P10nDo).