Rosetta, the sleeping beauty spacecraft that powered down in deep space is now on a comet mission. The European Space Agency (ESA) finally reconnected with its intergalactic traveler after 31 months of disconnection. The craft is completely solar-powered but it had traveled beyond the orbit of even Jupiter, approximately 500 million miles away from the sun. At that distance, the craft powered down because it couldn’t gather enough power to run in deep space.
Wake Up, Time to Go to Work
After its slumber, it is time for Rosetta to kick into high gear. It traveled in its orbit back within 418 miles from the sun, so Rosetta was able to go back into full power mode and continue its original mission – to catch up to and rendezvous with a comet in our galaxy.
The goal was to meet up with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August. In November, a lander would be sent to complete various experiments on the hunk of solar ice. Comets can be described as big chunks of solar ice and dust that are believed to be the very earliest remnants of a solar system. Scientists hope this mission will tell them more about how this happened in this one, a system which supports complicated life.
Rosetta was intended to meet with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the target comet, and travel with it in orbit around the sun. It has had a challenging mission. Rosetta launched in 2004. It made three separate trips across Earth and one across Mars to help it along its journey toward the comet, Astronomy Magazine reported. It had to confront two asteroids, Steins and Lutetia, on its mission.
It went into slumber once it reached the point past Jupiter. That was in June 2011. It was fitted with a wake up switch, which was set to activate today.
Late Wake Up But So Far So Good
Rosetta, dubbed Sleeping Beauty by some in the press, is awake for the comet mission but it got up late. The switch, or built-in alarm that was set to wake Rosetta up, must have also had a built-in snooze button because the craft was 18 minutes late in getting up, various outlets reported on the news of the mission update.
The alarm woke up its navigation and other functions to send a radio signal back to Earth. It had made it through its distant trip and had awaken to continue on Europe’s most ambitious space mission to date. It was described by the ESA as a “fairy-tale ending to a tense chapter” in the space saga of Rosetta. NASA’s Goldstone and Canberra ground stations received the signal, which was verified at the ESA Darmstadt center of operations.
What is Next
Rosetta will continue on its mission to rendezvous with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The ESA said that the glitch that caused the late awakening has not compromised the mission one bit. Rosetta would be the first spacecraft to accomplish this task. Rosetta, the “Sleeping Beauty,” has awaken to fulfill its goal of completing the comet mission.
By Rob Lawson