Sleeping Rosetta spacecraft wakes up for historic comet rendezvous and landing

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A European probe awoke from a deep sleep Monday to gear up for an unprecedented comet rendezvous and landing this year that will cap a 10-year voyage across the solar system.

After two and a half years in hibernation, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft emerged from its slumber while cruising nearly 418 million miles (673 million kilometers) from the sun. The wakeup call, which was due to begin at 5 a.m. ET (1000 GMT), took hours as Rosetta switched on heaters to warm itself after its long night in the cold depths of space.

"We made it!" Andrea Accomazzo, Rosetta's spacecraft operations manager, shouted in exultation in a webcast. "We can definitely see a signal from Rosetta!" 

The first signal from Rosetta was received by NASA's Deep Space Network at 1:18 p.m. ET (1818 GMT) and relayed to ESA's Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, which erupted in cheers and applause as the signal was confirmed.

Rosetta's first message home via Twitter: "Hello, world!"

The signal came after 18 minutes of tense silence as Rosetta's mission team awaited word from the spacecraft.

"We have our comet-chaser back," said Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, in a statement. "With Rosetta, we will take comet exploration to a new level."

Written By: Mike Wall, Space.com
continue to source article at nbcnews.com

18 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #4 by Eamonn Shute:

      New Horizons probe will fly by Pluto

      Funny thing, Pluto was demoted by IAU to ‘dwarf planet’ just six six months after launch. A solar system poster I bought a while back had no Pluto. Hmm, wonder how the object will be classified in official mission records. They can always just flip a coin ;)

      Just caught an episode of Neil deGrasse interviews on the Bill Moyers show (w/ transcript).

      Good stuff, Maynard.

      • In reply to #14 by bluebird:
        >

        Funny thing, Pluto was demoted by IAU to ‘dwarf planet’ just six six months after launch. A solar system poster I bought a while back had no Pluto. Hmm, wonder how the object will be classified in official mission records.

        It is likely to be classified according to its current status as a dwarf planet, or as a “Kuiper-belt dwarf planet”.

        More Dwarf Planets Found In Kuiper Belt, Pluto In Good Company But Still Not A Planet – http://www.geekosystem.com/dwarf-planets-kuiper-belt/

        The new discoveries are barely big enough to be classified as dwarf planets. They are most likely only around 250 miles wide, which is much smaller than Pluto. The fact that these planets are made of ice is likely what helps them pull themselves into a spherical shape.

        A dwarf planet is essentially a body which is big enough for its gravity to have collapsed it into a spherical shape – as distinct from the irregular rocks or broken fragments which are asteroids or comets.

  1. @link – No probe has ever landed on a comet before, so success is far from assured. But if all goes well, Philae will study 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko up close with its 10 science instruments, using a drill to snag samples up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) beneath the comet’s surface.

    “On the lander, there’s a camera that can look straight down like you’re standing up and looking at the ground. Then there’s a panoramic camera that can look out and see a picture of the horizon,” mission co-investigator Michael Combi of the University of Michigan said in a statement. “It’ll be fun to see what this landscape looks like. It’ll be like standing on a comet.”

    Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter will be studying the comet from above with its 11 science instruments. The orbiter and lander will continue their observations through December 2015, yielding a detailed look at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s structure and composition, and how the icy object changes as it moves around the sun. NASA has contributed three of the science instruments riding on Rosetta, as well as components of others, with several U.S. researchers participating on the mission’s science team.

    The information gained should be useful for developing technologies like laser bees (http://www.planetary.org/explore/projects/laser-bees/) to deflect Earth colliders, and also for surveys to look at the possibilities of asteroid and comet mining for water, metals etc. (http://www.space.com/23702-nasa-asteroid-detection-crowdsourcing-contest.html)

  2. Oh, and…. all the planning and success comes down to the ability of certain people to do MATH. BTW, math and science are synonyms much of the time. So, when a prayer solves a problem, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll stick to logic and reason, and smart ambitious folks who know how the universe works.

  3. Great! I listened to Andrea Accomazzo early in the morning on the radio and he was not sure that the systems will recover from the long sleep at extreme low temperatures just like that! He said they had four alarm clocks on board all ringing at the same time … But they did it. Now to the next step landing on a comet. Making obstacles meet in space is like having two persons on two different rondabouts, turning in different directions, mounted on two trains driving in two different directions at different speeds and the persons should throw a ball at each other. I hope they haven’t made mistakes at the calculations :-) All the best wishes for the mission!

  4. Great! I listened to Andrea Accomazzo early in the morning on the radio and he was not sure that the systems will recover from the long sleep at extreme low temperatures just like that! He said they had four alarm clocks on board all ringing at the same time … But they did it. Now to the next step landing on a comet. Making obstacles meet in space is like having two persons on two different rondabouts, turning in different directions, mounted on two trains driving in two different directions at different speeds and the persons should throw a ball at each other. I hope they haven’t made mistakes at the calculations :-) All the best wishes for the mission!

  5. What an amazing feat so far. The next hold-your-breath moment will be when the craft launches 2 harpoons into the comet in order to latch on and take samples. Hopefully the harpoons will take hold!

  6. ROSETTA’S FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    How long will the Rosetta spacecraft operate?
    Rosetta’s planned lifetime is about 12 years. The nominal mission ends in December 2015, after the comet reaches its closest point to the Sun (in August 2015) and starts heading back towards the outer Solar System.

    Could activity on the comet’s surface damage or destroy the lander?
    Survival of the lander depends on a number of factors, such as power supply, temperature, or surface activity on the comet. At some stage the lander will probably become too cold, i.e. its solar arrays will no longer provide enough energy to continue operation and maintain a benign thermal environment for the electronic units.

    They are pushing the limits using a solar array on this one. Sunlight is very weak out by Jupiter, and temperatures are near absolute zero (0°K), so they have done well to reactivate it. The danger is that the circuits will freeze out if the heat generated and the heat radiated get out of balance..

    Voyager, Cassini, Mars Curiosity Rover etc. have Radioisotope thermoelectric generators using pellets of 238 PuO2 for heating and electric power, because solar cells are inadequate for their requirements far from the Sun, – or in the case of the Rover because the high power demands of electric motors for mobility.

  7. For future mining of comets and asteroids, these links have some options.

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/5/30/arkyd-a-space-telescope-for-everyone#
    Since the formation of Planetary Resources, our primary goal has been to build technology enabling us to prospect and mine asteroids. We’ve spent the last year making great leaps in the development of these technologies.

    http://officialandreascy.blogspot.com/2012/04/website-asteroid-mining-mission.html

    http://minorplanetcenter.net/blog/asteroid-mining-and-planetary-resources-our-take-on-it/

  8. At one time asteroids were thought to be rocky and comets “dirty snowballs”. The new generations of telescopes and probes, have shown that comets are icy-dirt-balls, and some asteroids contain water.

    Ceres asteroid vents water vapour – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25849871
    >

    Observations of the Solar System’s biggest asteroid suggest it is spewing plumes of water vapour into space.

    Ceres has long been thought to contain substantial quantities of ice within its body, but this is the first time such releases have been detected.

    The discovery was made by Europe’s infrared Herschel space telescope, and is reported in the journal Nature.

    Scientists believe the vapour is coming from dark coloured regions on Ceres’ surface, but are not sure of the cause.

    One idea is that surface, or near-surface, ice is being warmed by the Sun, turning it directly to a gas that then escapes to space.

    “Another possibility,” says the European Space Agency’s Michael Kuppers, “is that there is still some energy in the interior of Ceres, and this energy would make the water vent out in a similar way as for geysers on Earth, only that with the low pressure at the surface of the asteroid, what comes out would be a vapour and not a liquid.”

    The quantity being out-gassed is not great – just 6kg per second – but the signature is unmistakable to Herschel, which was perfectly tuned to detect water molecules in space.

    The telescope’s observations were made before its decommissioning last year.

    Scientists will get a better idea of what is going on in 2015, when Ceres is visited by the American space agency’s Dawn probe.

    The satellite will go into orbit around the 950km-wide body, mapping its surface and determining its composition and structure.

    “It will be able to observe those dark regions at high resolution, and will probably solve the question of what process is creating the water vapour,” explained Dr Kuppers.

    Ceres is often now referred to as a “dwarf planet” – the same designation used to describe Pluto following its demotion from full planet status in 2006.

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