March 22, 2014
Rosetta, the comet-hunting space probe, continues its equipment check-out with Philae lander as it approaches its target - 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.
Rosetta as it approaches 67P.
Comets such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko are fossils from the age when our solar system was being formed, 4.6 billion years ago and as such could provide us with invaluable information regarding the formation of the system. European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has been launched in March 2004 and after three years in hibernation, it is currently firing up its instruments one by one as it approaches the comet.
The 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a 4 kilometre wide comet made of ice and dust that orbits the Sun every six and a half years. When closest to Sun, it passes 36 million kilometres from Earth's orbit and when farthest, its orbit crosses that of the Jupiter.
As the Rosetta approaches the comet, it is time to fire up and check out 11 of its instruments. After the Osiris camera system and the Alice spectrometer, it is time to wake up the lander Philae. Lander will send additional information from the surface of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it gets closer to Sun.
"The mission as a whole had this big emotional moment in January when the spacecraft was woken up," says Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist. "Now, individual teams must experience something similar again as each one of Rosetta's 11 instruments is turned on for testing."
Rosetta spacecraft has come out of three-year hibernation in January and is now about 640 million kilometres from the Sun. At these distances, its instruments have only enough energy to be activated one by one.
"The fantastic news after hibernation is that the solar arrays haven't degraded, so we are in an optimal state for power," says Sylvain Lodiot, Rosetta's deputy spacecraft operations manager. "But the situation is still marginal and we cannot yet run the instruments in parallel."
After the initial check, they are put back offline for when the probe reaches the 67P. This will happen in August. Until then, it's all about checking out the equipment and then in May, firing thrusters for over 7 hours to adjust Rosetta's trajectory. For this reason, the Osiris camera system won't be shut down. As Rosetta starts taking picture of 67P in order to find a good landing spot for Philae, we can expect some exciting close up images of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Also, you can check the interactive animation to help you track 67P's orbit and Rosetta's trajectory here.