On August 6, 2014, after a decade-long journey through space, ESA’s comet chaser "Rosetta" will become the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet. Rosetta will also be the first mission in history to escort a comet as it orbits the Sun, and deploys a lander to its surface.
Since its launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on March 2, 2004, Rosetta has traveled more than six billion kilometers, passing by Earth three times and Mars once, and flying past two asteroids.
For the most distant part of the journey, when it travelled out to the orbit of Jupiter, Rosetta was put into deep-space hibernation for 31 months, waking up on January 20, 2014, for the final leg of its epic journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on August 3, 2014 from a distance of about 300 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Orbit entry will take place on August 6, and will be triggered by a small but crucial thruster firing lasting just 6 min 26 sec, starting at 09:00 UTC. This burn will tip Rosetta into the first leg of a series of three-legged triangular paths about the comet. The legs will be about 100 km long and it will take Rosetta between three and four days to complete each one.
After tomorrow's rendezvous, Rosetta will accompany the comet around the Sun and as it moves back out towards the orbit of Jupiter. The lander, Philae, will be delivered to the comet’s surface in November 2014.
Video courtesy of ESA
Orbit entry timeline - August 6, 2014
|00:10/02:10||BoT Malargüe tracking station||ESA 35 m station, Argentina|
|02:50/04:50||BoT DSS-15||NASA 34 m station, Goldstone, USA|
|08:00/10:00||BoT New Norcia tracking station
AoS telemetry data flow (see below)
|Rosetta slews into position for thruster burn|
|09:00:01/11:00:01||Start: Comet Approach Trajectory – insertion thruster burn||Start of orbit entry manoeuvre. Must wait 1-way light time for confirmation on ground|
|09:06:27/11:06:27||End: thruster burn||Rosetta now on first leg of cometary orbit|
|Rosetta slews back to comet-pointing mode|
|09:22:30/11:22:30||Start of thruster burn confirmed on ground|
|09:28:56/11:28:56||End of thruster burn confirmed on ground|
|19:43/21:43||EoT New Norcia|
|19:48/21:48||BoT Malargüe tracking station|
- All times subject to change
- BoT: Beginning of track
- EoT: End of track
- AoS: Acquisition of signal
- LoS: Loss of signal
- One-way signal time 6 August: 22 min 29 sec
- Thruster burn set to run 6 min 26 sec
Featured image: ESA/Rosetta