Planetary scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) may find a thick ice crust with an ocean underneath when the NASA Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in March 2015. Even now, from a distance of 383,000 kilometres, the first surface features are visible.
2014 was an extraordinarily eventful and exciting year at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). The landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the mission by German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst were undisputed highlights. But the research conducted in other areas was extremely diverse, and sought to find answers to questions in the fields of aeronautics, aerospace, energy, transport and security.
Looking almost brand-new, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) set off from Hamburg, destined for its home base at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, at 13:16 CET on 14 December 2014 after its five and a half month visit.
With a diameter of nearly 1000 kilometres, it was the largest known asteroid – and yet Ceres, which was 'promoted' from asteroid to dwarf planet in 2006, is just nine pixels wide in the image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on 1 December 2014.
Philae landed on a comet just three weeks ago; now, another German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) lander mission has been launched – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is already on its way to Asteroid 1999 JU3.
It takes almost three days to fly the 36,000 kilometres from Berlin to Wellington and back. On 28 November 2014, a laser beam covered a comparable distance in outer space for the first time – with the difference that it only took a few seconds to dispatch satellite images to Earth via a relay satellite.
Originally scheduled for launch at 05:24 CET on 30 November 2014, the MASCOT asteroid lander will now set off from Tanegashima Space Center on board the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) orbiter Hayabusa 2 no earlier than 1 December, destined for asteroid 1999 JU3.
Shelves of ice, hundreds of metres thick, breaking into thousands of small icebergs that melt away in just a few days. This is not a scene from a disaster movie, but actually happened in the Antarctic in 1995 and 2002.
Just three kilometres from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the ROsetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) acquired images of the 'head' and underlying 'body' of Comet 67P. Immediately below is the planned landing site, Agilkia; in the top right of the field of view, one of the landing gear feet can be seen as the camera on the underside of the lander approaches the comet's surface at walking pace.
A short but significant 'thud' was heard by the Cometary Acoustic Surface Sounding Experiment (CASSE) as Philae made its first touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The two-second recording from space is the very first of the contact between a man-made object with a comet upon landing.