Reading up on the Rosetta mission.
What makes the Rosetta mission so special?
Rosetta will be undertaking several ‘firsts’ in space exploration.
It will be the first mission to orbit and land on a comet. That makes Rosetta one of the most complex and ambitious missions ever undertaken. Scientists had to plan in advance, in the greatest possible detail, a ten year trip through the Solar System. Approaching, orbiting, and landing on a comet require delicate and spectacular manoeuvres. The comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is a relatively small object, about 4 kilometres in diameter, moving at a speed as great as 135,000 kilometres per hour.
And doing that very very very far away.
How did Rosetta reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and how long did it take?
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko loops around the Sun between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth, that is, between about 800 million and 186 million kilometres from the Sun. But rendezvousing with the comet required travelling a cumulative distance of over 6.4 billion kilometres. As no launcher was capable of directly injecting Rosetta into such an orbit, gravity assists were needed from four planetary flybys – one of Mars (2007) and three of Earth (2005, 2007 and 2009) – a long circuitous trip that took ten years to complete.
But – it may not last as long as they’d hoped. It’s in a shadow so its battery isn’t going to last long because it can’t be recharged by the sun. So the scientists are working fast to grab what they can.