On this Earth day of August 6, 2014, a wonderful feat will be achieved, recorded into our timeline of human history, and will set a precedent for subsequent robotic emissaries moving forward.
Amidst the strife and persecution, the tyranny, war, genocide; the economic woes throttling the health and welfare of our civilization bred from artificial barriers we’ve constructed - mental and physical - that mortgage our longevity as a species…amidst the turmoil constantly blinding us from our preciousness in space and time which we owe to the biological sophistication of our single-celled ancestors,
…we’ve come together, both NASA and ESA - a consortium of 20 member states - to now witness another demonstration of international collaboration. The dream, inception, construction, and launch - in 2004 - of a spacecraft (and accompanying lander) now beginning its rendezvous with a planetary body, a comet, dubbed 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, named after discoverers Klim Ivanovych Churyumov and Svetlana Ivanova Gerasimenko, who first observed it on photographic plates in 1969.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken by Rosetta’s NavCam and OSIRIS science camera during the spacecraft’s approach to the comet in July and August, 2014. The last image, at lower right, was taken on August 4. [source]
The spacecraft is just as intriguing as the comet, however. Rosetta is a joint operation: a probe and a lander.
The probe, Rosetta, is named after the Egyptian basalt slab - the Rosetta Stone - which were inscribed three distinct scripts of various origin: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek.
Learn more about the Rosetta Stone here.
The lander’s name - Philae - was provided its name due to the Nile Island ‘Philae’, to which one of two obelisks were discovered which were inscribed with Ancient Greek and Egyptian inscriptions as well.
The Philae obelisk with Kingston Lacy in the background. [source]
In combination with one another - the obelisk and the Rosetta Stone - these two discoveries led to a great understanding of the Egyptian writing system, enabling further knowledge of our ancient history.
Just as the Philae obelisk and the Rosetta Stone granted us further understanding of our development as a species regarding our cultural history, Rosetta (the spacecraft) and Philae (the lander) will provide us further insight into the formation and content of comets, and thus, the origins of our early solar system.
An artist’s visualization of Rosetta/Philae and comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko [source]
Today, Rosetta (courtesy of NASA/ESA) will be the first spacecraft to ever rendezvous with a comet, escort (orbit) it along the comet’s trajectory toward the Sun, and deploy Philae (courtesy of DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI) to its surface.
The details are robust, but Rosetta’s orbital insertion (entry into orbit) will begin with a succession of triangular arcs (about 100km long), taking about 3-4 days to complete each one, with short thruster burns at each apex in order to redirect it toward/into each arc path to stay near the comet. The reason for this is due to the comet’s current speed and trajectory as it heads on its current path toward the Sun. Upon each triangular arc, Rosetta will be lowered closer to the comet’s surface until 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko captures the spacecraft with its gravity. Read more on today’s events HERE.
ESA’s video “How To Orbit A Comet” provides a beautifully animated visual guide regarding the Rosetta mission timeline and series of events.
Philae’s mission is quite different. Rosetta will come within about 10km of the comet’s nucleus to deploy the lander in November 2014. It will take several hours to reach comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko’s surface due to the extremely low gravity. Landing gear will absorb the small amount of force when reaching the surface, and ice screws in the probe’s legs - accompanied with a harpoon system - will lock onto the comet’s surface for sustained stability. Simultaneously, a thruster on the top of the lander will force it down to counteract the impulse of the harpoon, which will result in a force exerted from the opposing direction. Once anchored to the comet, Philae will commence its main objectives, which comprise 10 science instruments, and can be read about in detail HERE.
Again, ESA provides a beautiful animation regarding this part of the mission (watch it here), showcasing 5 of the 10 instruments in action: CIVA, ROLIS, SD2, MUPUS and APXS.
Artist’s visualization of Philae’s rendezvous/landing on the comet’s surface. [source]
This magnificent series of robotic maneuvers happens today, and you can follow along beginning at 8:00 GMT [10:00 CEST] via the link below :)
Rosetta mission timeline/overview [source]
Keep up with Rosetta via @ESA, and join the livestream event at 8:00 GMT [10:00 CEST]!