Sign up now to get free exclusive access to reports, research and invitation only events.
The European Space Agency successfully landed its Rosetta system on a hurtling comet
The European Space Agency launched the Rosetta mission in 2004 and this week it completed its primary mission: Land on a comet. In its travels the spacecraft has zipped by Mars, snapped a few shots of the asteroids Steins and Lutetia, mostly hibernated for three years awaiting a rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta includes a main mother ship and Philae, the craft that actually landed on the comet. Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to land on and escort a comet as it enters our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changes as it hurtles towards the Sun.
In the beginning
Surrounded by four 100-m lightning towers, the first Ariane 5G+, atop its mobile launch platform, stands on the pad at the Launch Zone (ZL-3) of the Ariane Launch Complex no.3 (ELA-3) at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe's space port, on the evening of February 24, 2004.
Illustrated factbox on the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft mission.
Sing me a comet song
Artist's impression of the 'singing comet' 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The singing sounds are thought to be oscillations in the magnetic field around the comet. They were picked up by the Rosetta Plasma Consortium -- a suite of five instruments on the spacecraft that is orbiting the comet.
Can you hear me now?
A video projection shows a signal that was resent by European Space Agency's satellite Rosetta to the agency's mission control center in Darmstadt January 20, 2014.
A scale model of the Rosetta spacecraft is pictured at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt January 20, 2014.
Trajectory of Rosetta’s orbit, focusing on the maneuvers on 12 November.
Artist impression showing Philae separating from Rosetta and descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
I see you
Rosetta captured some amazing shots of the lander as it began its seven-hour descent to the surface of the comet.
I see you part II
Rosetta and Philae lander.
The Philae lander of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission took this self-portrait of the spacecraft on Oct. 7, 2014, at a distance of 10 miles (16 kilometers) from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The image, taken with Philae's CIVA camera, captures the side of the Rosetta spacecraft and one of Rosetta’s 46-foot-long (14-meter-long) solar wings, with the comet in the background.
Target on sight
Landing on the comet.
The complicated part
At the moment of touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, landing gear absorbed the forces of landing while ice screws in each of the probe’s feet and a harpoon system locked Philae to the surface. At the same time, a thruster on top of the lander pushed it down to counteract the impulse of the harpoon imparted in the opposite direction.
How big is the comet?
Rosetta, the European Space Agency's cometary probe with NASA contributions, is seen in an undated artist's rendering.
A jagged horizon of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears in this image taken by the navigation camera on the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft during the second half of October 2014. The image was taken from a distance of less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the surface.
For landing operations, ESA is using its 'big iron' - two of the Agency's three ultra-sensitive 35m deep-space tracking stations, these ones located at Malargüe, Argentina, and New Norcia, Australia. The two stations will be sharing communication duties in alteration, with typical 'passes' -- the time slots when Rosetta is actually in visibility -- lasting about 10 to 13 hours.
Looking at you, kid
A shot of the comet from a distance of 9.7 km
Rosetta visits Lutetia asteroid.
Rosetta mission poster