The Philae lander on board the Rosetta spacecraft has been en route to its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, since 2 March 2004. On 12 November 2014, it will be released from its mother craft at an altitude of 22.5 kilometres above the comet and – if everything goes according to plan – will touch down on the surface of the comet about seven hours later.
Egyptian history has been explored, new words invented and appropriate comparisons sought for; a total of about 8300 suggestions for Philae’s landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko were received at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), the French Space Agency (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales; CNES) the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana; ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Volcanic ash can cause serious problems for aviation. Under Project VolcATS-Vehicle, researchers from DLR are investigating the effects of volcanic ash on aircraft.
In mid September, the site where the Philae lander will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was selected – landing site 'J'. Now, there is a detailed timetable for the descent of Philae. The lander will undock from the Rosetta spacecraft at 09:35 CET on 12 November 2014 at a distance of approximately 22.5 kilometres from the centre of the comet and land on the surface about seven hours later.
When the Philae lander touches down on 11 November 2014, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will have a landing site waiting for it with a varied but not too rugged landscape offering good solar illumination and hardly any steep slopes. In a two-day selection process, the lander team under the leadership of DLR selected landing site 'J' from among five possible candidates.
When the Philae lander reaches its landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it needs to be at a level yet scientifically interesting location, with enough sunlight and the right conditions to ensure a long working life. However, the rugged, unusually shaped comet is not making the choice easy for the lander team.
Less than 2000 kilometres separate the ESA orbiter Rosetta and the Philae lander from their destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Images acquired with the OSIRIS camera system already indicate what lies ahead for the orbiter and lander upon arrival: "The surface seems pretty rough. We will have to wait to determine whether the visible depressions are impact craters or structures produced by cometary activity," says Ekkehard Kührt from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). The comet researcher is involved in the acquisition of data by the OSIRIS camera and is also responsible for data analysis. Another image taken by the camera shows that a cloud of dust, the coma, enshrouds the comet. “As we draw closer to Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the other instruments used in the mission will provide us with interesting insights into the interaction between the dust and the surrounding gas.”
Tough, resilient and able to survive in the most inhospitable regions on Earth –now, they are being asked to show their strength in a space environment as well; blue-green algae (cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc) and biofilms (deinococcus geothermalis) will depart for the International Space Station (ISS) at 23:44 CEST on 23 July 2014 on board a Progress spacecraft.
Comets have irregular and rather potato-like shapes – this is a well-known fact. But the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the Philae lander is scheduled to descend in November 2014, has an unexpected shape.
The final exam in Russia has been passed, four and a half years of astronaut training across the globe are complete – and now, less than three weeks remain until the astronaut Alexander Gerst loses the ground under his feet for six months.