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Rosetta still earthbound

Urgent repairs mean no comet chasing until Monday

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The launch of the comet-chasing Rosetta mission has been delayed again, this time to allow for repairs to the Ariane 5 rocket's thermal sheilding. Lift-off was cancelled after the mission team noticed an area of foam protecting the main fuel tank was missing during a final inspection.

This thermal protection prevents potentially dangerous lumps of ice forming on the tank. The launcher will be moved to the Spaceport's final assembly building where engineers will replace the missing foam block.

The glue holding the new piece in place takes around 36 hours to dry and set, so the next launch attempt will be made on Monday next week.

ESA director of science, Dr. David Southwood, said that the ESA felt an attachment to cometary exploration: "Rosetta is psychologically very important for us in Europe, because we did get closest to Halley (with Giotto). So comets are ours," he told the BBC last week.

The Ariane 5 rocket has a colourful history, and the Rosetta mission has in the past been delayed because of concerns over its reliability. Scientists must be hoping that this latest hiccupp is just that, and that everything goes according to plan on Monday. ®

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