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Comet Chasing Probe Ready for Wake-up Call

Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (not to scale). 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. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab

Rosetta, Europe’s comet chaser is about to get a wake-up call.

Early next year — on January 20th — the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will yawn to life from its 957-day hibernation.

For the outbound probe, it’s the beginning of an eventful year. Rosetta will be steadily approaching the comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and will finally reach it in August 2014.

Philae lander

The ESA mission features strong involvement of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), which has played a major role in the construction and operation of Rosetta’s Philae lander.

Once a comprehensive mapping of the surface has been completed, the Philae lander, supervised by the Lander Control Center at DLR in Cologne, will descend to the comet’s surface in November 2014, and begin the investigation of its nucleus.

Unknowns

Philae will land on an object about which little is known; the scientists and engineers will decide upon the precise landing site using the first camera images acquired by Rosetta upon arrival at its destination.

The exact gravitational attraction exerted by the body, the composition of its surface – these are all unknowns for the scientists.

“The comet might have a hard icy crust, or its surface might have a loose, dusty covering,” says Lars Witte, who is responsible for the tests involving one of the Philae models at the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen.

Getting to work

Once it has landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Philae will get to work immediately. The 10 instruments are then expected to send data to the scientists for many months.

Rosetta will continue to accompany the comet on its journey through the inner Solar System, observing up close how it changes when exposed to the increasing intensity of solar radiation as it approaches the Sun.

BTW: Check out this clever wake-up call video for Rosetta at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P06yCOny218&feature=youtu.be

By Leonard David

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