Mission complete: Rosetta touches down on comet


The European Space Agency has confirmed the successful touchdown of the Rosetta spacecraft on the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

An ESA representative said it bought an end to operations, and that the spacecraft did a job that was “space science at its best”.

Rosetta was programmed to shut down as soon as it touched down on the comet’s surface.

A decade-long journey for Rosetta

Launched in 2004, the spacecraft has been floating through the vast vacuum of space for 12 years, six months and 28 days.

Rosetta racked up an impressive 7.9-billion kilometres through space since launching on 2 March 2004. With three gravity assists from planet Earth, one from Mars as well as two asteroid flybys, Rosetta has been feeding off the solar power emitted from the sun.

The mission objectives for Rosetta weren’t easy ones to complete.

“To study the origin of comets, the relationship between cometary and interstellar material, and its implications with regard to the origin of the Solar System,” as stated by the ESA.

During its journey, the spacecraft racked up 218.25GB of data, which contained clues to the possible origin of the universe, with commands sent at 2kbps.

The spacecraft might have been travelling through space for 12 years, but the mission was first considered long before that, in 1970, and later approved in 1993 by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Science Programme Committee. It originally planned to launch a lander on 46P/Wirtanen but was changed when their original plan hit a wall.

Rosetta was named after the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphs

“In December 2002, an Ariane 5, similar to the one designated to launch Rosetta, failed while lifting a communications satellite into orbit,” wrote the ESA in a blog post.

“With one billion Euros of taxpayers’ money and the hopes of the world’s comet scientists resting on the successful launch of Rosetta, the difficult decision was made to postpone the attempt until the launcher failure was understood.”

By the time it reached the comet, the spacecraft could already be considered an “old-timer”.  However, the time it took for Rosetta to reach the comet gave the team plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the craft more intimately.

“The flight team has learned to use the thrusters at slightly reduced efficiency to compensate for the fact that the fuel tanks cannot be re-pressurised. This is due to a leak in the Reaction Control System that manifested itself in 2006,” wrote the ESA.

“They have also learned to operate the reaction wheels at lower speeds than originally designed. The reaction wheels are critical to the mission. They are used to orient the spacecraft such that the instruments can point to the comet, the solar arrays to the Sun, and the main antenna to the Earth,” continued ESA.

The team worked around the clock to ensure Rosetta achieved her mission. Both the men and women involved as well as the science community as a whole will have a hard time setting her down.

“Our understanding of comets, the formation of the Earth and other planets will never be the same again thanks to Rosetta and Philae,” concluded ESA.

Featured image: DLR German Aerospace Center via Flickr 



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