In 1969, Svetlana Gerasimenko and Klim Churyumov discovered the comet that the Philae lander will descend to on 12 November 2014.
German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is back on Earth after spending five and a half months in space. The 38-year-old geophysicist and flight engineer landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan roughly 100 kilometres from the city of Arkalyk at 04:58 CET (09:58 local time) on 10 November 2014 after a three and a half hour return journey on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
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).
The Airbus A300 ZERO-G has completed 5200 flights, 4200 flying hours and 13,180 parabolas in the service of science and microgravity research. Now, the parabolic flight aircraft, operated by French company Novespace, is bowing out into well-earned retirement following the 25th research campaign for DLR.
The radar satellite TerraSAR-X has been orbiting the Earth since June 2007; in June 2010 its twin, TanDEM-X, followed it into space. For almost four years, the two satellites have been operated in a close flight formation by DLR.
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.
The 2014 harvest season is coming to an end, and throughout Germany the signs are of good yields for wheat, corn and similar crops. But the differences are large depending on the location. Hence, for optimum cultivation, it is important to be constantly aware of the condition of the soil and the crops. Radar images are particularly suitable for providing large-scale observations – using an aircraft or a satellite.
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.
Lucie Poulet, from DLR, spent four months living 'on Mars', donning a spacesuit to explore the Red Planet and cultivating vegetables inside the domed Mars station. To do all this, she did not have to move away from her home planet, Earth.
Pumping fuel with no bubbles is no problem at the filling station around the corner, but it certainly is in the microgravity environment of space. The fourth and final series of the Capillary Channel Flow (CCF) experiments on the International Space Station (ISS), which began on 5 August 2014, has just come to an end.
Bardarbunga, (Bárðarbunga) in Iceland, one of the largest volcanoes in Europe and located beneath the biggest glacier in Europe, became active again in mid-August. For several years now, DLR researchers have been keeping a close eye on Bardarbunga and the system of volcanoes associated with it – an enormous network of subterranean magma channels, vents and craters.
The first things the AISat satellite caught sight of were the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula and the Bering Sea – but at that time only one non-directional rod antenna was in use on board the satellite. Within eight minutes, the receiver picked up Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from 45 ships.
The radar system on board the European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel-1A satellite has been imaging Earth's surface in 250-kilometre swathes since April 2014. Now, scientists at DLR, working under a contract from ESA, have created the first interferogram from this data – showing the topography of Earth as a coloured pattern.
Never before did a mission team have to select a landing site on a comet – the Philae lander will be the first spacecraft ever to land on a comet and conduct in situ measurements. The ESA Rosetta spacecraft and the Philae lander began their journey to their final destination – comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – 10 years ago.
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.
The target field on the International Space Station (ISS) where the final European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo carrier, ATV-5 Georges Lemaître, recently docked is just 60 centimetres tall. The spacecraft arrived at 15:29:53 CEST on 12 August 2014, precisely manoeuvring automatically to arrive at the Station, at an altitude of around 400 kilometres. Astronaut Alexander Gerst had one primary task – to monitor the docking process and cancel the automated procedure in the event of an emergency. Inside the 20-ton craft are experiments such as the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) and the DLR magnetic experiment MagVector/MFX, together with food, coffee and clothing for the astronauts, fuel, air and drinking water, as well as a replacement pump for the water treatment system in the Columbus research laboratory. Overall, the ATV-5 transported roughly 6.6 tons of cargo into space. The sophisticated unloading process now begins for the teams in the control rooms at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen and Cologne.
Following its textbook launch on 30 July 2014, the fifth and final supply spacecraft in the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) series is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). The freighter – which is named after Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître, father of the Big Bang theory – is roughly the same size as a London double-decker bus and, together with its payload, weighs more than 20 tons. Scheduled to dock with the Space Station at 15:34 CEST on 12 August, it will supply the ISS with fuel, food and new experiments; it will remain attached to the Station for at least five months.
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).
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.