Rosetta, the Comet-chasing Spacecraft

Ten years ago, the European Space agency launched the Rosetta space probe with its mission to harpoon and ride a comet.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe aims for a spectacular first in space exploration. The billion-euro machine will catch up with a comet, circle it slowly, and throw down a lander to the surface. With gravity too weak to keep it there, the box of electronics and sensors on legs will cling to its ride with an explosive metal harpoon.

Together, the Rosetta probe and its lander, Philae, will scan and poke the comet as it tears towards the sun. As the comet draws near, it will warm and spew huge plumes of gas and dust in a tail more than one million kilometres long. The spectacle has never been captured up close before.

The comet, named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, formed from cosmic debris 4.6bn years ago, before material had coalesced to form the Earth and our nearest planets, and the sun was a newborn star. Even rocket scientists find the comet's name hard work. Some opt instead for "Chury".

But first, it has to wake up. The probe is currently further from the sun than Jupiter, without adequate sunlight to power itself. It was put into hibernation three years ago to conserve energy. On Monday, scientists will be crossing their fingers when it's time to reactivate the probe, to gear it up for its rendezvous with the comet in the spring. What could possibly go wrong? A million things, actually, so the ESA crew will be a bit nervous come Monday. We just hope that Rosetta doesn't turn over an hit the snooze button.  -via reddit

We had a progress report from Rosetta back in 2007. That seems so long ago.

(Image credit: ESA)


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