Rosetta, a European spacecraft, is expected to meet up with the icy comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a long ten year journey across the solar system.
The spacecraft is expected to reach the comet on Wednesday, August 6, which will mark the end of its 4-billion-mile journey. Ten years after being launched in March of 2004, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will finally be able to orbit a comet, something no other spacecraft has yet done.
The spacecraft will position itself a mere 62 miles away from the comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday. In November, Rosetta will be deploying a small lander, named Philae, that it has been carrying all these years. The lander will then guide itself onto the comet’s surface.
Once there, the lander will take samples and conduct the most detailed analysis of a comet ever.
However, even though Rosetta’s journey is almost over, the next day or so will prove to be incredibly difficult.
“On top of a good physical model of the comet nucleus, we also need a good coma model that tells us the density and velocity of particles being emitted from the comet,” said ESA orbital mechanics expert Frank Budnik.
“We expect the spacecraft to be affected by the surrounding coma in addition to the comet body’s gravitational pull, and these all play into calculating the orbits and the thruster burns required to keep Rosetta near the comet.”
Since comets are rich in the basic elements that are needed for life, like hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen, any information gathered from this mission will hopefully help researchers better understand comets, the Solar System, and maybe even the life itself.
The spacecraft Rosetta is expected to reach the comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shortly before 5 AM PDT on Wednesday.