Rosetta Spacecraft Awake After Nearly Three Years

The Rosetta spacecraft is now awake after nearly three years in a deep sleep. The European spacecraft seems to be fully operational and prepared to complete its 10-year exploratory mission. The efforts to wake the craft began at 5 am. Although it took several hours, the European Agency’s Space Operation Center received a signal at 7:18 pm.

The Rosetta mission is a joint effort between NASA and ESA. In March 2004, the spacecraft was launched millions of miles into space. The craft’s mission is to record data from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

After the initial launch, the craft traveled around Earth and Mars for several years. In June 2011, the solar-powered craft shut down as it traveled nearly 500 million miles away from the sun. Thirty-one months later, the craft has now moved back toward the sun, which allowed it to wake up from the deep sleep.

As reported by ESA, the spacecraft is still 9 million miles away from the comet. However, it is expected to catch up within the coming months.

Once it catches up, the spacecraft will collect data using 25 specialized instruments, which will map the surface, calculate gravity, mass, and shape, and analyze its composition. Sam Gulkis, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, discusses the significance of the data collection:

“All the instruments aboard Rosetta and the Philae lander are designed to work synergistically… They will all work together to create the most complete picture of a comet to date, telling us how the comet works, what it is made of, and what it can tell us about the origins of the solar system.”

Essentially, the Rosetta spacecraft will be the first to attempt a landing on a comet. After it collects data from the comet’s surface, it will proceed to follow the comet around the Sun for more than a year. Previous spacecrafts have approached comets. However, they passed far too quickly and were only able to collect vague details. This mission will provide detailed information, which is vital to the space programs.

Although the mission is not expected to be easy, the results will be well worth the effort. ESA researcher Matt Taylor said he expects to “face many challenges this year.” However, he said he and his colleagues are “just extremely happy to be back on speaking terms with [the] spacecraft.”

Waking up is simply one important step in the Rosetta spacecraft’s mission. The researchers expect the next two years to be very interesting and informative.

[Image Via ABC]