Rosetta space probe attempts to land on a comet

An unmanned Rosetta space probe is attempting to successfully land on comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after travelling for over ten years.

Separation
Today, at 08.35GMT, the European Space Agency attempted to achieve a first for space exploration, by placing a robot on a moving comet, a mere 510 million km from Earth.

 

The Rosetta satellite released a spacecraft, the Philae lander, towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is a large mass of ice and dust, with the aim of finding out more information about these mysterious relics from the formation of our Solar System.

Following a rough night of many critical decisions, Rosetta and Philae have been cleared for separation. This follows the late night discovery that the active descent system, with the aim of providing thrust to avoid rebound during touchdown, cannot be activated.

Not only is the mission difficult due to the distance the spacecraft has to travel, but there are several obstacles, including a 4km-wide ice mountain, and the risk that Philae could just bounce back into space.

At touchdown, Philae will deploy landing gear, including foot screws and harpoons to attempt to fasten its position, but this will all be more difficult.

The complex descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will take approximately seven hours, and a confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected around 17.02 GMT.

Jean- Pierre Bibring, lead lander scientist said “We’re anxious but excited, it’s not every day that we try to land on a comet.”

Amongst millions of other science nerds, I will be watching the live stream avidly, and I’ll be updating my blog and twitter when more information is released.

In the mean time, follow the excellent tweets from the Rosetta space probe or the Philae lander!

 

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