Scientists gear up to land first spacecraft on comet (Update)

Scientists gear up to land first spacecraft on comet (Update)
The Aug. 6, 2014 file photo shows an expert watching his screens at the control center of the European Space Agency, ESA, in Darmstadt, Germany. Scientists at the European Space Agency are making final preparations to land the first spacecraft on a comet next week. The launch of a small lander from ESA's Rosetta space probe marks one of the key moments in the decade-long mission to examine comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (AP Photo/dpa, Boris Roessler)

The European Space Agency is making final preparations to land the first unmanned spacecraft on a comet next week, and scientists are hoping that technology designed a quarter century ago will perform as planned.

Europe's Rosetta space probe was launched in 2004 with the aim of studying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and learning more about the origins of the universe.

After successfully getting Rosetta to rendezvous with the comet in August, scientists intend to release a small landing craft called Philae onto its icy surface.

The drop—scheduled for 0835 GMT (3:35 a.m. EST) Wednesday—requires a series of complex orbital maneuvers over the coming days. Since signals take over 28 minutes to travel the 500 million kilometers (311 million miles) from Earth to Rosetta, scientists have programmed the probe to perform the separation sequence itself when the moment is right.

They will rely on what, in digital terms, is ancient technology.

"The design and building started some 20 years ago," mission manager Fred Jansen told reporters Friday. "Effectively you're looking at technology, computing-wise, of the end of the 1980s."

The 100-kilogram (220-pound) lander should touch down on the surface of the comet about seven hours later, with confirmation reaching Earth at about 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST).

"There is no doubt that we'll hit the comet," said spacecraft operations manager Andrea Accomazzo. "Whether we hit it safely is another matter."

The European Space Agency, which relies for funding on its member states, has sought to drum up public interest in the mission with a series of high-profile campaigns over the past year. These include an online vote on what to name the landing site—Agilkia, after an island on the Nile River, was chosen—and the release of a sci-fi short film called "Ambition" starring "Game of Thrones" actor Aidan Gillen.

The landing event will be streamed on the space agency's website.


Explore further

Image: Rosetta selfie 16 km from comet

More information: Rosetta website: www.esa.int/rosetta

"Ambition" movie: www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Vide … 10/Ambition_the_film

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Scientists gear up to land first spacecraft on comet (Update) (2014, November 7) retrieved 16 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-11-scientists-gear-spacecraft-comet.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 07, 2014
Check out the landing site:
http://www.esa.in...e_mosaic

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more