04 February 2012

Rosetta Spacecraft To Land Probe on Comet

On 02 March 2004, Flight 158 started a ten year journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Launched from a Ariane-5G rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, Rosetta's mission is to undertake a long term exploration of the comet at close quarters. Rosetta is named after the Rosetta stone which helped decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is comprised of a large orbiter and a small lander named Philae after an island in the Nile where the Rosetta stone was discovered. Each of these carries a large complement of scientific experiments designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is named after the two Ukranian astronomers who discovered it on 11 September 1969 at the Alma-Ata Astrophysical Institute in Kazakhstan. An overall 3-D model was constructed and computer generated images created from Hubble Space Telescope pictures taken on March 2003 in preparation for the Rosetta mission.

Video: ESA Rosetta Spacecraft's Mission to Land on a comet

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a nucleus about 4 kilometres wide. It orbits aroud the Sun every 6.6 years, between 186 million kilometres and 857 million kilometres from the Sun.

Shortly after it was launched, ESA commanded the Rosetta spacecraft to go into hibernation mode. It's deep sleep phase will last until 20 January 2014. At that time, the spacecraft will then be just a few months away from its appointment with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko out near the Planet Jupiter. Only two functions of the spacecraft are left running; the clock system that will activate and wake Rosetta up from hibernation and a pair of heaters that will ensure that the craft will not freeze in the cold of deep space.

The plan is for it to orbit the comet and launch Philae, the small lander, on its surface.

"The spacecraft may now be at rest but the team has a busy time ahead, getting ready for the meeting with the comet," said Dr Gerhard Schwehm, the European Space Agency's (Esa) Rosetta mission manager.

The Rosetta Stone which the spacecraft is named after is a slab of volcanic basalt with carved inscriptions that included ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Greek. Since Greek was already understood, the stone helped in understanding hieroglyphics. Just like the Rosetta stone, this mission will help unlock the mysteries behind the origins of the solar system.

Comets are believed to be made up and contain materials that have remained largely unchanged since the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago, and the Rosetta data should help researchers understand better how the solar system has evolved over that time.


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