Sunday, 19 January 2014

European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft to be a Comet Chaser at 24,600mph

ESA Spacecraft to be woken for Big Mission

Report by Independent Newspaper



A spacecraft will begin one of the most daring missions ever attempted on Monday - landing on a comet which is hurtling through space at 24,600 mph.
As it is impossible for it to achieve the speed needed alone, the spacecraft has completed three flybys of Earth and one of Mars to build up pace using the planets' gravitational pulls.
Operating on solar energy alone, the spacecraft was placed into a deep sleep in mid-2011 in order to conserve energy as it cruised far away from the Sun’s gaze and out towards the orbit of Jupiter. It has been out of contact with Earth ever since.
At 10am on Monday, what the ESA is calling the ‘most important alarm clock in the solar system’ will sound to awaken the vessel. It will then take up to six hours for the vessel’s star trackers to warm up - only then can it attempt to reconnect with mission control on Darmstadt, Germany.
Due to Rosetta’s vast distance from Earth – just over 807 million kilometres – it will take 45 minutes for the signal to reach home, meaning controllers will be tentatively listening out for the signal between 17:30 and 18:30 GMT.
It is hoped that the Rosetta will finally catch up with the comet in August when it will spending a couple of months studying and mapping the 2.5 mile wide ball of ice and dust, before dropping a small robot on its surface to gather samples and take pictures.
European Space Agency project scientist Matt Taylor compared the mission to the film 'Armageddon’ - in which Bruce Willis’s character lands lands on an asteroid to to prevent it from destroying Earth.
“We look at comets as being a time capsule, they are relics from the beginning of the solar system,” added Mr Taylor, speaking to The Sunday Telegraph. “We felt we had to go to one.”
Fred Jansen, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager, added: “We’re very excited to have this important milestone in sight, but we’ll be anxious to assess the health of the spacecraft after Rosetta has spent nearly 10 years in space.”
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