Rosetta Mission Selfie at Comet 50km away - Credits ESA/ROSETTA/ PHILAE/CIVA
10 years and 6.5 billion kilometres into its interplanetary voyage, the Rosetta Space Mission is now just 30 kilometres from its target. Rosetta is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) comet-chasing spacecraft and is the first mission ever designed to both orbit and land on a comet. It is now preparing for the mission’s final and most crucial phase. Although Rosetta has been working over-time it recently took a well-earned rest to snap this selfie with the comet, using its Philae lander's CIVA camera.
There is now just under two months before the probe begins its manoeuvres to land on the surface of the 10 billion-tonne comet, a feat never before attempted in space exploration. A primary landing site and a backup one have now been selected and the mission will become even more challenging as calculations begin to ensure a smooth landing.
Every variable must be taken into account: from the comet’s strange shape – likened by some of the Rosetta team to a rubber duck – through to its speed, a rapid 60000km/h! The composition and behaviour of the comet’s surface will also be a challenge as the mission control team attempts to put Philae, the lander, in place and begin its investigation.
Once touchdown is complete Philae will begin a 50 hour sequence of experiments to gather as many measurements and information as possible from the unusually named Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. The findings will then be transmitted back, across a distance roughly equivalent to travelling around the earth 10,000 times, to our ground-based scientists who will use the data to better understand how our solar system first formed.
The world of IT services is generally encouraged to keep its feet on the ground but not so with Atos’ ongoing collaboration with the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French Space Agency, who plays a key role in this ESA mission through its Science Operations and Navigation Centre (SONC) in Toulouse. We’ve been designing the schedule for the scientific operations of Philae and monitoring the execution of on-board scientific experiments to ensure everything runs like clockwork and all the expected data has been correctly generated.
It is not, however, without its rewards. Once the data has safely ‘touched down’ in the CNES data centre scientists can begin to interpret Philae’s findings with the possibility of revealing new insights, not only into the origins of the solar system but, possibly, how the Earth formed and how comets may have jump-started life on Earth...
As the countdown to Philae’s comet landing begins we’ll be interviewing Laurent Peret, one of Atos’ consultants, to hear more about his role in the success of the mission so far. He’ll give us a first-hand account about some of the mission’s successes and challenges so far – including waking the lander after nearly three years of hibernation as well as the celebrations back at base when the first images of the comet were received…