Touchdown! Rosetta’s Philae probe lands on comet

By . Published on 27 November 2014 in:
News, November 2014, , , , ,

Rosetta is a space probe of the European Space Agency [ESA] to study the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It is a joint mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander was built by a consortium led by the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI). It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet. It is escorting the comet as they orbit the Sun together, and has deployed a lander to its surface. Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the time when the Sun and its planets formed. By studying the gas, dust and structure of the nucleus and organic materials associated with the comet, via both remote and in situ observations, the Rosetta mission will provide valuable insights into the history and evolution of our Solar System.

On 11 November 2014, ESA’s Rosetta mission landed its Philae probe on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, an extraordinary technological and scientific achievement. After a tense wait during the seven-hour descent to the surface of the comet, the signal confirming the successful touchdown arrived on Earth at 16:03 GMT (17:03 CET). The confirmation was relayed via the Rosetta orbiter to Earth and picked up simultaneously by ESA’s ground station in Malargüe, Argentina and NASA’s station in Madrid, Spain. The signal was immediately confirmed at ESA’s Space Operations Centre [ESOC] in Darmstadt, and DLR’s Lander Control Centre in Cologne, both in Germany.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 6.4 billion kilometres through the Solar System before arriving at the comet on 6 August 2014.

Philae Touchdown

The landing site for Philae, named Agilkia, located on the head of the double-lobed object, was chosen after studying images and data collected at distances of 30–100 km from the comet. Those first images soon revealed the comet as a world littered with boulders, towering cliffs and daunting precipices and pits, with jets of gas and dust streaming from the surface.

Next year, as the comet grows more active, Rosetta will need to step further back and fly unbound ‘orbits’, but dipping in briefly with flybys, some of which will bring it within just 8 km of the comet centre.

The comet will reach its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 at about 185 million km, roughly between the orbits of Earth and Mars. Rosetta will follow it throughout the remainder of 2015, as they head away from the Sun and activity begins to subside.

“It has been an extremely long and hard journey to reach today’s once-in-a-lifetime event, but it was absolutely worthwhile. We look forward to the continued success of the great scientific endeavour that is the Rosetta mission as it promises to revolutionise our understanding of comets,” said Fred Jansen, ESA Rosetta mission manager.

Read more about Rosetta.

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