To think Rosetta was launched well over 10 years ago to land on a piece of rock traveling at 66,000 km/h over 500 million kilometers away. It actually did what it set out to do so far.
This stuff blows my mind.
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It would be interesting to know if they identified the comet 10 years ago? What if that comet disintegrated since that time? How did they identify the speed of the comet? Lots of question keeps me agaped!
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Joe Harry wrote:It would be interesting to know if they identified the comet 10 years ago? What if that comet disintegrated since that time? How did they identify the speed of the comet? Lots of question keeps me agaped!
There's some background info about the Rosetta mission on the ESA Rosetta web pages. According to the factsheet, the original choice of comet was changed:
ESA wrote:Rosetta’s launch was originally scheduled for January 2003 on an Ariane-5 rocket. Rosetta’s target at that time was Comet 46P/Wirtanen, with the encounter planned for 2011. However, following the failure of the first Ariane ECA rocket, in December 2002, ESA and Arianespace took the joint decision not to launch Rosetta during its January 2003 launch window. This meant that Rosetta’s intended mission to Comet 46P/Wirtanen had to be abandoned.
In May 2003, a new target comet and launch date for Rosetta were selected: the spacecraft was launched in March 2004 and will meet its new target, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in 2014.
The spacecraft's precise trajectory would have to be designed, planned and timed very carefully to ensure it could eventually catch up with the comet, which is no doubt one reason why the change in launch date meant they had to change the target comet. There must have been lots of criteria for choosing the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For example, I guess you'd want one whose orbit is well-known so you can be sure your spacecraft can catch up with it, and you want one that will be heading towards the sun during the mission time-frame, as that's when the interesting stuff happens and your spacecraft won't have to travel so far.
Incidentally, comets have been around since the formation of the solar system over 4 billion years ago, so you'd have to be pretty unlucky to pick one that was going to disintegrate just before you got there. Although that would have been interesting too e.g. I wish we could have had a close-up view of Shoemaker-Levy hitting Jupiter!
I think it's pretty mind-blowing that people could sit down over 10 years ago and design this mission so precisely that Rosetta could then succeed, not just in catching up with a tiny lump of ice tumbling through space exactly when it was supposed to, but also manoeuvre itself into orbit around the comet. Landing Philae on the comet in one piece and getting pictures and science data back is even more astonishing.
As a child of the 1960s "Space Age", I am constantly amazed at how much progress has been made in space science in my own lifetime.
Unfortunately, it's now gone dead because it missed it's planned landing spot and is in a shadow where the solar panels can't recharge the batteries. There is a slight chance that as it gets nearer to earth, the panels will pick up enough light to charge the batteries and wake it up again.
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