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9 Reasons This Spacecraft Is Taking The Best Selfie Ever

The Rosetta Orbiter is now nearing the highly anticipated climax of its 10-year mission to track down and land on a comet. It may not star Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck but this Armageddon style mission is just as incredible.

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1. Rosetta has been flying through space for 10 years and slept for only 957 days...

Launched on March 2, 2004 the Rosetta space probe has now spent 10 long years in space. The Rosetta Mission is an international effort headed by the European Space Agency (ESA), and backed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), aimed at orbiting and subsequently landing on the 2.5 mile wide Comet 67p/Charyumov-Gerasimenko, or “Cherry-Gerry” for short. After being in hibernation for a record breaking 957 days, Rosetta has been reactivated and is now preparing for its groundbreaking mission.

2. Rosetta is cruising at 36,000mph thanks to the gravity of Earth and Mars

NASA / Via nasa.gov

However, catching up with a comet hurtling through space at 34,000mph is no easy task. 67p/Charyumov-Gerasimenko’s orbit loops around the Sun, between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth, and meeting up with the comet has required a cumulative travel distance of nearly 3.7 billion miles. In order to match up with the incredible speeds of Cherry-Gerry, Rosetta has preformed four planetary flybys. With no man-made jets powerful enough, the orbiter has been slingshoting around Earth and Mars, utilizing their gravity to pick up the necessary speed to catch the racing space rock.

3. Rosetta is collecting information on the history of our Solar System

Why chase down a comet in the first place? Comets are, as far as we know, the oldest most primitive objects in our Solar System making them the earliest record of material from the nebula out of which our Sun and planets were formed. They are time capsules of our Solar System’s formation. The planets have gone through chemical and physical transformations over time, but comets have remained nearly unchanged. It is believed that the comets are responsible for bringing the ‘volatile’ light elements to the planets and could explain the formation of our oceans, atmospheres, and even us. Comets potentially carry complex organic molecules that may have been involved in the origin of life on Earth.

4. Rosetta is carrying a unique lander module called the Philae Lander

Via leonarddavid.com

In order to preform the landing, the Philae Lander will detach from Rosetta as its orbit begins to near the comet’s surface. With the primary landing location confirmed on October 14, 2014 Philae will have its sights set on “Site J”, located on the smaller of the Cherry-Gerry’s two distinct lobes. Because of the comets very low gravity, Philae will deploy a system of harpoons and ice screws to stay affixed to the surface. Philae carries 10 scientific instruments on board to conduct experiments and drill into the surface of the comet.

5. After 10 years, the hardest part is yet to come with a complicated landing ahead

Rosetta arrived at the comet on August 6, 2014 and began orbiting at a distance of 63 miles. Through a series of planned and very complicated maneuvers (as seen above) the spacecraft has managed to slow down and match the comets speed moving to an orbit within only 6 miles of the surface. On November 12, 2014 at 8:30GMT the landing module will be released and begin the 7 hour decent to the surface of the comet. The landing is expected to occur at 15:30GMT. During the decent Philae will take pictures (including one last photo of Rosetta), sample the dust and plasma environment surrounding the comet, and conduct other various experiments.

Fred Jansen, ESA's Rosetta Mission manager, says "There are so many more key maneuvers to happen before this exciting but high-risk operation can be carried out..."

6. Operating in outer space is no easy task

European Space Agency / Via rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov

With a signal delay from the orbiter back to Earth on November 12, 2014 of 28 minutes and 20 seconds separation and subsequently landing confirmation will not arrive immediately and are scheduled to come in at 9:03GMT and 16:00GMT respectively. In fact, Philae will not be able to fully communicate with Rosetta for 2 hours after separation. These 2 hours will be spent by Rosetta re-establishing orbit and position.

7. Landing Mission Objectives

Via extremetech.com

On the surface of the comet Philae will conduct a variety of experiments that will last for about 64 hours. This time is constrained by the charge life of the onboard batteries. After these initial experiment sequences, the length of long-term work is unknown due to the unpredictability of the comet’s dust. As it begins to break apart nearing the Sun, it is unknown how much dust will actually settle on the landers solar panels, affecting the recharging abilities of the batteries. However, no matter what Philae’s mission is assumed to come to an end March 2015. At this time the comet will be getting ever closer to the Sun, entering a period of it’s orbit where the temperatures will be too high for Philae to continue operations.

8. Rosetta's Future

NASA / Via jpl.nasa.gov

Rosetta will continue to work long after Philae has completed it's mission. After separation with the lander Rosetta will resume orbit around the comet, continuing to preform experiments and studying it. Rosetta will accompany the comet through a period of increased activity as it nears the Sun, continuing to break apart and increase off-gassing. It will study the comet all the way through its nearest encounter with the Sun in August 2015, and continue to follow it back out to space again.

9. BUT WAIT... Rosetta took a selfie

The best part of all this, besides the potential for understanding the birth of our Solar System, Earth, and perhaps life itself, is the amazing "spacecraft selfie" Rosetta has beamed back to us of her and 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko before preparing for the incredibly difficult comet landing on November 12, 2014.

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