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One small alarm for a spacecraft, one giant mission for mankind
January 21, 2014 11:09 AM   Subscribe

The Rosetta spacecraft just woke up after a 32 month nap, some 500 million miles from Earth (interactive location tool) in preparation for its encounter with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Rosetta will enter orbit around the comet in May of this year, map it and then drop off a little lander named Philae in November, which will be the first manmade craft to soft land on a comet. Once anchored, the Philae will study how the composition of a comment changes as it approaches the Sun.

An animation of the mission can be seen here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (26 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Follow Rosetta and Philae on Twitter.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


This is so cool. I follow a lot of missions but for some reason (probably because it's ESA) I really didn't know much about this one. I was just this morning reading up on the lander though and... oh man. If they can pull this off and get pictures of the surface of a comet I'm going to have a nerd boner the size of a small planet.
posted by bondcliff at 11:15 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


ESA claims the Rosetta orbiter timer delay was due to the spacecraft hitting the snooze button... twice!
posted by nickggully at 11:20 AM on January 21


This is going to be so cool. And I'm going to be lazy and ask if anyone knows (or has pointers to info about) two things:

- I thought comets generally tumbled, even when they're far from the Sun. How are they dealing with that?

- It looks like they've got some drills that the lander will use to anchor itself to the comet. How will they work it so that they will dig into the comet and not just push it back off the surface?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:21 AM on January 21


Metafilter: the composition of a comment changes as it approaches the Sun

This is really cool and extremely exciting though. Thanks for posting.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:23 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


How will they work it so that they will dig into the comet and not just push it back off the surface?

"Because of the comet's extremely low gravity, a landing gear will absorb the small forces occurring during landing while ice screws in the probe's feet and a harpoon system will lock the probe to the surface. At the same time a thruster on top of the lander will push it down to counteract the impulse of the harpoon imparted in the opposite direction."

(from the extended video description on the second yt link)
posted by elizardbits at 11:27 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


They're harpooning a comet? Somebody needs to update Moby Dick.
posted by Thing at 11:42 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko isn't tumbling. It rotates with a period of about 12.8 hours.

I don't know that we know that much about the rotational states of comets in general. One can speculate based on the effects of outgassing, but the difficulty of getting them tumbling and the timescale to stop tumbling and settle into a stable rotation depends a lot on internal structure, which isn't well-known for comets generally.
posted by BrashTech at 11:45 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Even irregular rotations are regular, given the right frame of reference
posted by blue_beetle at 11:53 AM on January 21


They're harpooning a comet?

Also Donder and Blitzen. Not Cupid, though. Cupid might shoot back.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:57 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


This is so cool, it gives me a tingle to think about it. Thanks for posting it, BB.

Once anchored, the Philae will study how the composition of a comment changes as it approaches the Sun.

Is it reading this comment RIGHT NOW???
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:10 PM on January 21


No, it's still waking up, figuring out what happened "last night".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:15 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


It is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:17 PM on January 21


No, it's still waking up, figuring out what happened "last night".

Wait until it looks over and sees Spirit. Wow, that'll be awkward.
posted by eriko at 12:21 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


Am I the only one who sees how this is going to end? Philae is going to anchor on to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, changing it's trajectory in ways the space-physicists had not foreseen and placing it on a collision course with Earth. We're all doomed! DOOMED I tell you!
posted by slogger at 12:41 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Rosetta:
Launch date 2 March 2004

Twitter:
Foundation date March 21, 2006

MIND BLOWN
posted by dhartung at 12:43 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


They're harpooning a comet? Somebody needs to update Moby Dick.

"From ESA's launch pad I stab at thee!"
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:44 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Confirmation of successful entry into hibernation came at 14:13 UT (16:13 CEST) when radio contact was lost, as expected.

So Rosetta has been literally incommunicado for two and a half years? No status messages or anything? That was pretty ballsy of them.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:35 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


As BadAstronomer has pointed out, Rosetta took some pretty awesome pictures back in 2009 when she was doing her swingbys.
posted by The Bellman at 2:40 PM on January 21


Math. Is. Awesome.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:25 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


So Rosetta has been literally incommunicado for two and a half years? No status messages or anything? That was pretty ballsy of them.

No choice. The panels weren't generating enough power -- this is why the outer planet explorers use RTGs rather than solar panels. So, they spun the spacecraft for stability and shut everything down except the computer and a few heaters. The computer then commenced singing "37,587,271,209 bottles of beer on the wall." When it got to "No more bottles of beer on the wall", it executed the wakeup program -- stop the spin, warm up the star trackers, put the panels face on to the sun, then find Earth and send back a very important message*.

New Horizons is using a similar mode, but with an RTG, it has enough power to send a limited signal. So, it broadcasts a simple beacon tone. One tone means "All's groovy" and the other is "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" -- you don't get a lot of message with a beacon tone. The receiver listens, so the operations team can wake up the probe when needed. During the long journey from the Jupiter encounter to Pluto, the probe is online about two months out of the year, and asleep otherwise.

This year, they plan to wake up New Horizons in late June for a checkout and a course correction burn, then back to sleep late August. Then, on December 7th, the big wakeup for the approach, flyby, and follow through. Distance encounter science stars in January 2015, the closest approach will be on July 14th, 2015.


* HEY I NEED MORE BEER HERE!
posted by eriko at 5:37 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I love the engineering and craftsmanship to creates something that lies dormant for so long in a hostile environment before performing an extremely complex physical task. It's like a time capsule that preserves its own functionality.

My car will operate years after manufacture if I keep it maintained and running, but if I left it alone for several years in the sun then pushed the start button... I'm pretty sure it wouldn't wake up. :)
posted by anonymisc at 5:55 PM on January 21


There was a test of Philae's autonomous systems while it did flyby of Mars, yielding this great shot.

Then it probably went back to sleep>
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:04 PM on January 21


Math. Is. Awesome.

Stupidly, this gives me a lump in my throat.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:39 PM on January 21


The many planetary boosts and the timing to make it all line up correctly is amazing. It ends with a long chase to catch up to the comet this spring. Here's the video.
posted by jjj606 at 8:45 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Very cool.
posted by homunculus at 11:01 PM on January 21


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