NASA is one of a number of participants in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission looking forward to the “wake up” of the probe scheduled to happen tomorrow.
The Rosetta mission has been called one of the “most daring space missions” to have ever been undertaken. The Rosetta probe was launched ten years ago and was given the job of tracking down and landing on a comet. For the past two-and-a-half years, the probe has been in “hibernation mode” in an effort to conserve its power, but tomorrow it is set to “wake up,” warm up over a period of several hours, and then send a signal back to its monitors at the European Space Agency. Among those anxiously looking forward to receipt of the “wake up” signal which will indicate that the mission is still on course, is NASA project scientist for U.S. Rosetta, Claudia Alexander, who is thrilled at the possibility of having “an extended presence in the neighborhood of a comet.”
The precise timing for the receipt of the signal is not known, but those working on the project are unlikely to attempt any type of intervention before Tuesday at the earliest, should the signal not come through. The receipt of the signal will provide no information about Rosetta’s condition, but will indicate that the probe has done everything it was supposed to do up to that point and that it is “in a safe status.” From there, it is up to the scientists on the ground to make sure the mission continues to be successful.
Assuming that the Rosetta mission is still on track, the probe is set to connect with the comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko some time next August. Rosetta will spend a few months mapping and studying the comet before attempting to drop a robot named Philae on to its surface on Nov. 11 allowing for the gathering of samples and the taking of pictures. Scientists are hopeful that information about the materials that make up the comet, which are believed “to have remained relatively unchanged” since the beginnings of the solar system, can assist efforts to better understand how the “space environment” has evolved.
Though the Rosetta mission has been led by the European Space Agency, it is a collaboration of scientists and engineers from both Europe and NASA in the United States. NASA’s contributions to the mission include three instruments on board the probe that are set to begin collecting data in the early summer months of this year. These three instruments are an ultraviolet spectrometer, a microwave instrument and Rosetta’s ion and electron sensor. NASA is also providing support for other instruments and ground support for the European Space Agency’s Ground Station Network for spacecraft navigation and tracking.
Art Chmielewski, a NASA project manager for U.S. Rosetta is also looking forward to the probe’s wake up. He says “It feels good to be part of a team that is on the cusp of making some space exploration history.” His excitement is palpable as he suggest that he “should buy a ticket and a big box of popcorn” to take in upcoming events.
By Michele Wessel