The European Space Agency, NASA and scientists and fans of space travel the world over are bidding farewell to the Rosetta space probe today. 12 years on from its launch from Earth’s surface, the comet orbiting space probe will finally come to rest – quite spectacularly – on the surface of comet 67P, ending its mission for good.
KitGuru writers and readers alike followed the Rosetta mission with much excitement when it was first awoken from its multiple year hibernation, as it neared the comet, touched down its lander module and began broadcasting back the first scientific data. It was an exciting and often incredibly tense ride that was a decade+ in the making and gave us a unique insight into the composition of comets.
But now, two years on from its initial touchdown, Rosetta’s mission is at an end. As 67P’s 6.5 year orbit around the sun carries the space craft far from its source of solar power, it will no longer be able to maintain its position around the comet. So the researchers in charge have decided that the best way to make use of Rosetta in its final moments, is to land it on the comet’s surface.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 30, 2016
Unfortunately, since it isn’t designed for landings of any kind, Rosetta is likely to crumple on touchdown, so will likely end its life quite spectacularly in a flash of light, ice and dust; but hopefully it will capture some cool photos and data as it does so, sending it back to us in its final moments.
Even if there is a remote chance that some hardware will survive, Rosetta will still need to be shut down. Potentially if a miracle happened and nothing was damaged and the antenna was pointed in the extra right inclination, it may come back online in a few years time, but that is not something the ESA is banking on.
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KitGuru Says: Thank you for your service Rosetta. You’ll be well remembered and perhaps one day an intrepid space explorer will find you and return you to Earth for posterity. If not, we can imagine a sad, anthropomorphic Rosetta reaching out for Philae with its dying breath. At least they can be alone together.