ESA Extends Rosetta Comet Mission Until September 2016

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - 2:59PM
ESA
Astronomy
Philae/Rosetta
Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - 2:59PM
ESA Extends Rosetta Comet Mission Until September 2016
Over the last decade, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft became the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, landed the first manmade spacecraft on a comet, and generally provided the most detailed survey of a comet ever performed. The trailblazing mission was set to come to an end in December, but it has now been extended for nine months until September 2016, at which time it will crash land onto Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

"This is fantastic news for science," said Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta Project Scientist. "We'll be able to monitor the decline in the comet's activity as we move away from the sun again, and we'll have the opportunity to fly closer to the comet to continue collecting more unique data. By comparing detailed before and after data, we'll have a much better understanding of how comets evolve during their lifetimes."

In the next year, Rosetta is expected to observe the comet's closest approach to the Sun, which will take place on August 13. This will lead to a sudden increase in activity on the comet, followed by relative inactivity as the comet moves away from the sun. ESA is hoping to move Rosetta closer to the comet's nucleus, in order to better observe the activity and changes in the comet's properties during its active "summer." The mission leaders also plan to determine the composition of the dust ejected near the nucleus, as well as fly by the night side of the comet in order to observe the interactions between plasma, dust, and gas in the dark regions.

Once the comet, and Rosetta along with it, move further away from the Sun, the spacecraft will be unable to harness solar power and will gradually deplete, now projected to completely run out of power in late 2016. The last time Rosetta ran out of power, ESA placed it in hibernation for more than two years in order to continue the mission, but this time, they believe the time is ripe for a crash landing.

"This time, as we're riding along next to the comet, the most logical way to end the mission is to set Rosetta down on the surface," said Patrick Martin, Rosetta Mission Manager. "But there is still a lot to do to confirm that this end-of-mission scenario is possible," he said. "We'll first have to see what the status of the spacecraft is after perihelion and how well it is performing close to the comet, and later we will have to try and determine where on the surface we can have a touchdown."
Science
Space
ESA
Astronomy
Philae/Rosetta

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