• 4 Incredible Facts about the Rosetta Mission

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4 Incredible Facts about the Rosetta Mission

Nov 28 2014

After a nail-biting, hair-pulling, stomach-churning month, the European Space Agency (ESA) finally had cause to celebrate when the Philae Lander amazingly touched down on Comet 67P, breaking a number of galactic records. Scientists are hopeful that the mission will reveal the secrets of the origins of our solar system, and subsequently, life on Earth.  

Here are four incredible facts that you may not know about the Rosetta spacecraft and its mission.

1. The Rosetta Mission is over a decade old

While the mission has only recently come to prominence in the news, the mission is, in fact, over a decade old. Approved in 1993 as a cornerstone or long-term mission for the ESA, the Rosetta spacecraft was launched in March 2004 atop an Ariane 5 G+ rocket.

Due to the fact that no rocket launcher could propel the spacecraft directly into the comet’s orbit between the Earth’s and Jupiter’s own orbits, the spacecraft required gravity assists from four planetary flybys to make the journey of over 6.4 billion kilometres to the comet. This was an extremely long and circuitous journey that took over ten years to complete.

2. The spacecraft is powered entirely by the sun

Fitted with innovative new technology solar panels, the spacecraft’s onboard instruments and subsystems is only powered by the energy that comes from the sun. During part of the 10-year journey, the probe was kept in hibernation for 31 months. With most electrical systems shutdown (with the exception of the command decoders, radio receivers, and power supply), the ESA was able to minimise their operation costs and fuel consumption.

Unfortunately, the Philae spacecraft is currently sleeping. With depleted batteries and not enough sunlight to recharge, we are left waiting for the next step. The mission’s engineers are now trying to locate Philae, and then determine if it will ever receive enough sunlight to recharge, rise and shine, and kick-start the mission. Originally, five locations were identified as possible sites to set down the Philae lander, but the choices become narrower as the date became closer.

3. Comet 67P was discovered in 1969

Klim Ivanovych Churyumov of the Kiev University's Astronomical Observatory discovered comet 67p/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (comet 67p for short) while examining a photograph in 1969 of what was assumed to be the comet Comas Solà. Since its discovery, comet 67P has been observed by ground-based telescopes and found to be a “short-period” comet, orbiting the sun every 6.6 years.

4. The mission is a 2,000 man job

About 2,000 individuals from across the industry staffed the project, build the spacecraft and ran the mission, from design and development through to the comet landing. Projects with such galactic mission statements and goals reaching far into the future can often result in the development of unlikely, new technologies back on Earth. The World Wide Web, for example, was developed at CERN when particle physicists were looking for a way to share information with fellow scientists and colleagues.

Who knows what surprising developments will come from the Rosetta Mission? Visitors to SpaceTech 2014, were able to explore how technology developed for space missions like Rosetta could help development in non-space sectors such as healthcare, energy and telecommunications. You can read more about SpaceTech 2014 in this story: Industry Explores Space Technology Prospects.

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