Rosetta all set for fact-finding finale

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The Rosetta probe, the lander Philae and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The European Space Agency has announced the end of Rosetta’s groundbreaking mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 

The spacecraft’s swansong will come on 30 September when it attempts a controlled descent to the comet and turns off its radio transmitter.

While the descent is a risky operation, it will enable Rosetta to provide very-high-resolution imaging and unique close-up data we could gather in no other way.

As the comet and spacecraft travel further from the sun, it has significantly reduced solar power to operate its instruments and reduced bandwidth available to download scientific data.

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An image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken when Rosetta was about 16.7 kilometres away in June 2016.
ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The finale of the historic mission will conclude nearly 26 months of research since Rosetta arrived at comet 67P in August 2014.

But before arriving, Rosetta travelled for 10 years to catch the comet. That length of time in the harsh environment of space has taken its toll.

Combined with an ageing spacecraft and payload that have endured the harsh environment of space for over 12 years – not least two years close to a dusty comet – this means that Rosetta is reaching the end of its natural life.

“We’re trying to squeeze as many observations in as possible before we run out of solar power,” says Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist.  

“30 September will mark the end of spacecraft operations, but the beginning of the phase where the full focus of the teams will be on science. 

“That is what the Rosetta mission was launched for and we have years of work ahead of us, thoroughly analysing its data.”

Rosetta’s operators will begin changing the trajectory in August ahead of the grand finale such that a series of elliptical orbits will take it progressively nearer to the comet.

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Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s orbit takes it, at its outer extreme, beyond the orbit of Jupiter and an innermost point between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

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