The ESA Rosetta spacecraft has travelled over 6.4 billion kilometres, swung by planets, examined two asteroids during flybys, and spent more than two and a half years in hibernation during its 10-year journey. On 6 August 2014 at 11:30 CEST, with the Philae lander on board, it arrived at its target comet and entered into orbit. Now, the mapping of the comet, which appears to consist of two interconnected parts, will begin. The first ever landing on a comet is expected to take place on 11 November 2014. The Philae lander is controlled and operated from the Lander Control Centre of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Tomorrow, on 6 August 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft will have approached its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to within about 100 kilometres, and the global mapping of the surface of the nucleus will begin. Watch the press conference from ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt from 10:00 CEST (08:00 UTC) via live web streaming.
Record cold temperatures on Earth are far from the low point on a comet formed from ice and dust. Researchers using the Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on board ESA’s comet rendezvous spacecraft, Rosetta, have determined that the average temperature on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a mere minus 70 degrees Celsius. This is where, in November 2014, the lander Philae – constructed and operated by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will touch down. “At this temperature, the surface of the comet is not completely covered with a layer of ice, but with dark, dusty material,” says DLR planetary researcher Gabriele Arnold, who heads the German scientific contributions to this experiment. The temperature was measured during Rosetta’s approach to the comet, where it is due to arrive on 6 August 2014.
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.”
Surface structures are becoming visible in new images of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. These images, with a resolution of 100 metres per pixel, were acquired with the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on board Rosetta. The comet's neck region - the section connecting the two heads - seems to be much brighter than the head and body of the nucleus.
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 European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft and its lander Philae are currently around two million kilometres from their target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Even at this distance, images acquired by the OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) camera system already show the comet awakening on its way towards the Sun, enveloped in a cloud of small dust particles. Using these observations, the OSIRIS science team, which includes planetary researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), have been able to determine the comet’s rotation period with additional precision – 12.4 hours. In August, Rosetta will arrive at the comet, and will deploy the Philae lander onto the comet’s surface in November – the first ever landing on a comet.
More than two and a half years – this is how long the Philae lander has been hibernating while travelling through space on board the European Space Agency ESA Rosetta spacecraft. On 28 March, the lander was successfully reactivated and broke its planned radio silence by sending data to Earth from a distance of about 655 million kilometres.
A rocket launch in March 2004, multiple swing-bys past Earth and Mars, high-speed fly-bys of asteroids Šteins and Lutetia – after all this, the Philae lander on board ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, which is en route to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is in good shape.
Among the most fascinating projects in the exploration of the Universe is the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, launched in 2004 to investigate the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. For the first time, a spacecraft will follow a comet as it approaches the Sun and land on its nucleus.
The original Philae comet lander has been travelling through space since 2 March 2004. It is currently in hibernation mode, awaiting its arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But the Philae models on the ground are being put through their paces: they are being tested to breaking point and examined by DLR.
On 8 June 2011, the Rosetta spacecraft will be put into hibernation after having travelled through space for more than seven years. To reduce energy consumption, the European probe will be flying in 'economy mode' as it heads towards its destination, the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But this will be no break for researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR); they will continue to train in preparation for Rosetta's arrival in May 2014. Six months after reaching the comet, Philae, the Rosetta lander, will become the first spacecraft to land on a comet.