Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. After an extensive mapping phase by the orbiter in August–September 2014, a landing site will be selected for Philae to conduct in situ measurements in November 2014. The image is not to scale; the Rosetta spacecraft measures 32 m across including the solar arrays, while the comet nucleus is thought to be about 4 km wide. (Photo: ESA)
Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) sounded Rosetta’s internal alarm clock to reboot the mission after two-and-a-half years of deep space slumber. Once its systems warm up, Rosetta is due to beam a signal back to Earth before it begins to home in on a frozen rock known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is due to shoot harpoons into the 2.5-mile dirtball before its Philae lander docks on the surface – a move that has never been attempted before.
An artist’s impression of the Philae lander descending towards the comet
ESA project scientist Matt Taylor likened the mission to that of the action film Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis lands on an asteroid to save the world from destruction. “We’re not just landing on the Moon, we’re dealing with something dynamic, which is kicking off tons of dust and gas every minute,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. Because Rosetta, which has been sleeping to save power, is so far from Earth, it will take 45 minutes for its signal to reach scientists at mission control. They expect to see a blip on computer monitors between 1730 and 1830 GMT, indicating the spacecraft is up and running again.
Rosetta’s Philae lander will carry out several tests on the comet’s surface
Dr. Dan Andrews, a planetary scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, said: “We’re waiting to hear Rosetta is alive and healthy. “This wake-up call kicks off a chain of events, during which the spacecraft heats itself up, points itself towards the Sun and gets itself ready. “Remember, this mission is 10 years old – it’s a bit of a stroppy teenager and it’s going to take a while to wake up.” If all goes to plan, Rosetta will arrive at Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August before descending to the comet several months later.
The Rosetta spacecraft was given a boost by Earth’s gravity