The Rosetta Mission Comet Landing

rosetta mission comet landing

Philae lander about 3 kms from the surface of the comet. Image Credit: ESA

The European space agency have managed to land on a comet. The Rosetta mission comet landing by the probe Philae signifies a big leap forward in space exploration.

The Rosetta Mission Comet Landing

After being in space for over 10 years the Rosetta Mission managed to intercept and land on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 17:03 CET November 12th. The $1.58 bn Rosetta mission’s goal is to unlock the mysteries of comets, remnants that predates the formation of the solar system. Rosetta launched in March 2004 by the European Space Agency and have since traveled more than 6 bn kilometers to catch up to the comet it subsequently landed on.

The Rosetta mission comet landing site named Agilkia on one of the lobes of the comet was chosen after analyzing data collected from 30-100 km away after the craft intercepted the comet in August 2014. After final analysis of data from 10 km distance the Rosetta space probe moved off to prepare for separation from its lander.

The Philae lander separated from the Rosetta space probe at 10:03 CET 22.5 km from the comet. The lander lacked any form of propulsion or guidance slowly closed on the comet over 7 hours of nerve-racking waiting. All the while the lander collected data on the comet.

The plan was for the touchdown to take place at a speed of about 1 m/s with the 3 legged landing gear absorbing the impact. At the same time an ice screw in each foot of the lander would drive into the surface of the comet attaching it to the surface.

During the final health check a faulty thruster at the top of the lander presented a problem. The thruster was tasked with preventing the lander from recoiling from the comet when harpoons meant to tether the lander to the comet fired. ESA doesn’t know yet if the thruster failed to perform or not and where exactly the lander touched down on the comet.

Despite this problem the Rosetta mission comet landing took place according to plan at 17:03 CET causing jubilation at ESA mission control in Darmstadt. This was the first soft landing on a comet a huge accomplishment for everyone involved.

Over the next 2.5 days the science mission consists of taking panoramic views of the landing site, high-resolution images of the surface and analysis of what the surface consist of. It will also analyze other aspects of the comet including electrical and mechanical characteristics. The hope is that the lander will remain operational until March 2015.