The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will dispatch a probe on Wednesday, landing it on a comet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the culmination of a mission that began a decade ago.
As IFLScience notes, the Rosetta spacecraft was launched in 2004, traveling through the solar system for a decade before making contact with its target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in August. Since then, Rosetta has been observing the comet, as mission controllers prepare to launch Philae, a 220 lb. lander that will be the first man-made instrument to make a soft landing on a comet.
— Discovery Canada (@DiscoveryCanada) November 11, 2014
Rosetta is set to launch Philae early Wednesday morning, with confirmation of the landing expected around 11:00 am EST. As CNN notes, the lander cannot be steered after it is launched and mission controllers face a nervous seven hour wait as the probe free falls to the surface of the comet. Since Rosetta and the comet are so far away, the confirmation signal will take nearly a half hour to reach Earth, as the Inquisitr previously reported.
Since the comet possesses extremely weak gravity, engineers have developed a number of unique solutions to keep the lander in place. Philae will land at Agilkia, a target area on the head of the comet’s nucleus, and deploy a series of harpoons that will secure it to the comet’s surface. After it makes observations and orients itself, it will send a signal to the Rosetta spacecraft, which will relay the confirmation to Earth.
— Varisthecleric (@Temple_Of_Five) November 5, 2014
The lander contains a suite of 10 instruments that will sample the comet, drilling 23 centimeters below its surface, revealing much about its inner structure. The mission is expected to produce data useful in determining the role of comets in the early universe and what influence they may have had on Earth.
Video of mission control is streaming live and will continue until after the lander returns its confirmation signal. As 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko nears the sun next summer, the Rosetta orbiter will remain with it, returning footage as the comet expels hundreds of kilograms of material every second.
[Image via Liberty Voice]