The European Space Agency, ESA, has announced the “perfect” landing site for the Rosetta Mission’s “Philae” lander, on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The lander will attempt to touchdown on the comet in an area of the comet known as “Site J.” The unmanned space probe Rosetta is scheduled to discharge the landing vehicle at 12:35 AM PST Nov. 12, 2014. The landing descent procedure is scheduled to be a seven hour journey, with scientific reading and measurements being recorded on the way down, along with numerous high-resolution images.
The images will be taken by the Comet infrared and Visible Analyzer ( CIVA) onboard space camera. It is just one of 11 instruments onboard the Philae probe. The first image CIVA will take upon its release is an image looking in reverse, back towards the Rosetta orbiter.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission, has taken 10 years to reach fruition, began orbiting the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, 2014. It has taken six weeks for the space agency to determine a proper landing zone, and it was officially announced on Thursday, Oct. 16. Rosetta was launched in the year 2004 and is the first space mission to have a direct confrontation with a comet. The European Space Agency will coordinate the Rosetta orbiter to accompany Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as it orbits the Sun, deploying the landing module Philae to the comet prior to its solar orbit.
Rosetta and the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are roughly 800 million kilometers away from the sun, and despite this fact, the propulsion system is a solar cell powered generation system. Even though sunlight levels at this distance are only four percent that of similar sunlight levels here on Earth, The European Space Agency decided that Rosetta would be given the solar cell energy generation propulsion system over the more popular radio-isotope thermal generating propulsion system that powers the majority of spacecraft in the universe.
Comets orbit the Sun in an elongated orbit. The nucleus of a Comet resembles that of a dirty snowball. It is made of ice, and as it orbits the Sun, particles of dirt and debris fall away as the ice structure begins to melt and evaporate from the heat of the Sun. A cloud consisting of evaporating ice, along with dirt and dust particles in addition to gases form the nucleus of the Comet, sometimes referred to as the coma. All these particles and gases form the Comets tail, which always points away from the Sun.
The European Space Agency performed a comprehensive readiness review before deciding on the landing “Site J.” This landing site is located on the smaller of the two lobes of the Comet. A series of Go / No Go decisions will be made immediately before deployment on the Philae lander, to determine trajectory issues before the final release.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta orbiter carries 11 science instrument packages it will need to complete its mission to land on the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. These instruments run the gamut from image spectrometers to multi-channel radio communications devices used to send and receive transmissions to and from Rosetta, and the Philae lander, once is has docked with the Comet.
By Jim Donahue
Photo courtesy of ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA