Scientists Will Use A Hibernating Spacecraft To Land A Robot On Comet 67P
The ESA spacecraft Rosetta has spent the last 31 months hibernating in deep space, but in a matter of weeks it will be awakened from its slumber and sent in pursuit of the Comet 67P. Once it arrives, it will attempt to place a robotic lander on the comet's surface. While this sounds like the opening scene of the latest sci-fi movie, it is in fact very, very real....and incredibly cool.
In January, the European Space Agency will take up the task of restarting Rosetta, which was initially launched into space all the way back in March 2004. With no active systems other than an internal clock, the initialization procedures will take the best part of 24 hours, after which Rosetta will begin its journey towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Once it is close enough, the team's toughest task begins, placing a robotic lander called Philae, onto the comet's icy surface. Should Philae land successfully, it will start taking samples of comet just as it makes a close pass to the sun in late 2015.
Rosetta has already travelled thousands of kilometers since its launch almost a decade ago, orbiting Earth 3 times and slingshotting around Mars, but after a 31 month hibernation it is set to begin a journey that will potentially unlock the secrets behind the icy objects that hurtle through our solar system. However, the mission's success is by no means guaranteed and as ESA Scientist Dr. Matt Taylor tells the BBC the team face many nervous moments over the course of the next year.
"You have the hurdle of getting it back on and then there is the massive hurdle of getting it close to the comet....and there's landing on it," said Taylor who concludes that "This is going to be a year of intensity." Well Dr. Taylor, it may be a year of intensity but if you guys pull this off, this will be yet another case of science truly catching up with science fiction.