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.
It follows an elliptical orbit around Mars, undisturbed, almost lonely – the orbiter Mars Express. For 11 years now – to be precise since Christmas Eve 2003 – the first and, for some time now, European Space Agency longest-serving interplanetary mission has been travelling around our planetary neighbour.
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.
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.
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.
These images, acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, show a part of the Hellas Planitia impact basin illuminated in warm bronze and golden hues. The camera is operated by DLR and is being used to systematically image the surface of the Red Planet in 3D and in colour for the first time.
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.
Detecting, assessing and classifying disasters and then informing the world about it is a heavy burden for a 37-year-old who could pass for a 25-year-old student. But Cristina Párraga Niebla is up to the challenge. This is precisely what the EU Alert4All project, which the DLR scientist and project leader brought to a successful conclusion at the end of January 2013, was designed to do.
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.
The MUPUS instrument, one of 10 experiments on the Philae lander that touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko encountered very hard material with a temperature of about minus 170 degrees Celsius – probably rich in ice.
How long does it take for a star to be born? To date, only this much has been clear: longer than there have been humans on Earth with the technology to observe it. But the precise age of a star-forming cloud has now been determined by a team under the leadership of scientists at the University of Cologne using the GREAT spectrometer on board the SOFIA airborne observatory.
Before going into hibernation at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014, the Philae lander was able to conduct some work using power supplied by its primary battery. With its 10 instruments, the mini laboratory sniffed the atmosphere, drilled, hammered and studied Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko while over 500 million kilometres from Earth.
Construction of the International Space Station (ISS) started on 20 November 1998 with the launch of the Russian cargo and propulsion module 'Zarya' (Dawn).
Update – the Philae lander entered sleep mode at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014.
The Philae lander performed about 56 hours of continuous scientific measurements on the surface of Comet 67P, but by 01:15 CET on 15 November the energy state of the lander became so low that the engineers assumed that Philae would go into sleep mode during the night.
Not only was it the first ever landing on a comet – it was also the second and third. Since 18:32 CET on 12 November 2014, the Philae lander has been on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, performing experiments and returning data.
Rosetta's lander Philae is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as these first two CIVA images confirm.
The image shows comet 67P/CG acquired by the ROLIS instrument on the Philae lander during descent on Nov 12, 2014 14:38:41 UT from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface.