Update: It’s done it. Rosetta has reached the comet!
The Rosetta Probe was launched into the cosmos over a decade ago back in March 2004, with plans to have it rendezvous with a comet, begin orbiting it – essentially sticking to it like the moon does with the Earth – and eventually land on it. This will give us whole new swathes of data on the structure of comets, how they interact with other aspects of the solar system and make it all the more easier for us to land astronauts on an asteroid in the future. And today, it’s set to begin the final leg of its journey.
Set to begin its retrograde burn in the next few minutes, allowing it to slow down enough that the comet’s tiny gravitational pull will allow it to eventually orbit the body, Rosetta’s journey has had scientists on tenterhooks for years. It entered hibernation over two years ago before being awoken this year, to help conserve power. It’s also used the gravitational pull of the Earth and Mars to help accelerate it to the speeds needed to intercept the speeding comet, known as 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Rosetta is equipped with a four megapixel camera that will be able to give us images of the comet as it approaches and enters a stable orbit. The plan is to have Rosetta orbit at around 100KM distance, until it wants to drop off its small probe body known as Philae.
Philae is a small robotic lander attached to the Rosetta probe, that will give us the first contact images of human hardware with a comet, giving us our first real look at what it’s made of. It will also be able to use a variety of instruments to analyse the comet, such as an X-Ray spectrometer, which will look at its chemical composition, a gas chromatrograph to see if any volatile components are present, an infrared scanner to look beneath the surface of the comet and a magnetometer, among several other tools and sensors.
Unfortunately with all the action set to take place in the next 30 minutes or so, there’s a lot of people trying to view the livestream right now and it’s almost impossible to have it load without buffering, but I’d still recommend giving it a go if you’re a fan of space exploration, as this is a landmark day in human space adventuring.
KitGuru Says: It’s worth remembering that this is a 10 year mission that involves getting caught in the gravity of something that is so weak, it only requires 0.47 metres per second of propulsion to escape it.