The big lesson from comet landing

Nov 18, 2014

By Martin Barstow

Patience, it is said, is a virtue. If that’s the case, then the scientists involved in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission have been very virtuous indeed.

After all, the men and women involved in the project have waited most of their scientific careers — through years of planning and construction, not to mention the 10-year journey of the Rosetta spacecraft — to see the Philae lander land on Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko. And now they can enjoy the fruits of this amazing adventure, which has landed (albeit a little bumpily) and has been returning data.

Rosetta was an enormously ambitious and technically risky project. However, overall, it has been a great success so far, with a number of “firsts” for ESA that have not been achieved by any other space agency — it has chased a comet across the solar system, rendezvoused and then achieved orbit.

Landing a probe on the surface like this has been a huge challenge: working in a low gravity environment with poor knowledge of the nature of the comet surface. It was unclear even if it would it be a solid body or a loose collection of material.

And there are plenty more challenges ahead. For a start, although data has been collected from the orbiter since August, and the first images are now being received from the lander, it will take many more months and possibly years for Rosetta to realize its full scientific legacy.


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14 comments on “The big lesson from comet landing

  • @OP – After all, the men and women involved in the project have waited most of their scientific careers — through years of planning and construction, not to mention the 10-year journey of the Rosetta spacecraft — to see the Philae lander land on Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko. And now they can enjoy the fruits of this amazing adventure, which has landed (albeit a little bumpily) and has been returning data.

    The long wait is quite usual for deep-space missions to the outer Solar-System, and for the Mars rovers etc. As for data, there is still new analysis being done of the Apollo Moon rocks!

    On Rosetta, there are some links, and quite a lot of detail on this earlier discussion.
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/11/history-beckons-for-rosetta-comet-mission/



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  • Sally Luxmoore Nov 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Apparently they have discovered organic molecules!
    That has to be monumental news.

    Anything organic tends to be hyped by the press!
    There are organic molecules all over the Solar-System and in nebulae all over the galaxy!



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  • @OP The big lesson from comet landing

    The lesson of international co-operation is essentially a US public one.

    ESA by its very nature is an organisation based on international co-operation.

    While the US politicians have taken a competitive “space-race” pose, NASA has cooperated on ventures such as the Apollo-Suyez missions, Cassini-Huygens, and the International Space Station.



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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Perhaps the reason for this has to do with a popular misconception: people unfamiliar with chemistry and biology tend to confuse “organic molecules” with “living organisms”. If the announcement had been that Philae had found the latter on 67P, now THAT would have been the huge breakthrough that scientists are hoping for.

    Nevertheless, Rosetta/Philae is a major milestone in space exploration. I am convinced that the data from Philae will bring more exciting discoveries as it is analyzed.



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  • Meanwhile another similar mission to an asteroid is being planned!

    http://spaceflightnow.com/2014/12/02/philaes-little-cousin-prepared-for-launch-to-asteroid/

    Weeks after accomplishing the first touchdown on a comet, the team of European scientists that developed the Philae landing craft is awaiting launch of a related robot riding piggyback with Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to achieve the same feat on an asteroid.

    The MASCOT lander is smaller than Philae — just one-tenth of the mass of the comet lander — but scientists expect it to record imagery of the asteroid’s landscape and gather science data on the tiny world’s alien environment.

    Hayabusa 2 is set for launch at 0422 GMT Wednesday (11:22 p.m. EST). Japan’s H-2A rocket will send the probe speeding away from Earth to intercept asteroid 1999 JU3, an unexplored world about the size of several city blocks.

    It arrives at the asteroid in June 2018 for a year-and-a-half of close-up surveys.

    Hayabusa 2 will drop four landers to the asteroid some time in 2018 or 2019, including MASCOT — the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout — which rides inside the mothership during its interplanetary journey.



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  • They are now processing “colour” images of the comet.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30454342

    The first colour image from the Rosetta spacecraft shows that Comet 67P is even more dark and monochrome than expected.

    Despite being carefully assembled from three images taken with red, green and blue filters, the shot still looks effectively black-and-white.

    It comes from the Osiris camera, which is on board the orbiting craft that last month made history by dropping a lander onto the comet’s surface.

    The Osiris team says 67P is “as black as coal” and surprisingly uniform.

    The image was released by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, which leads the consortium behind the camera.

    “We like to refer to Osiris as the eyes of Rosetta,” said the instrument’s principal investigator Dr Holger Sierks.

    But the camera is unlike human eyes, and so the colour image had to be produced by combining three separate shots.

    This was no easy task. Rosetta is constantly moving and the comet beneath is spinning, so various changes in angle had to be accounted for.

    The result is an image that looks remarkably similar to previous, greyscale views of 67P.

    “As it turns out, 67P looks dark grey, in reality almost as black as coal,” Dr Sierks said.



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  • . . . . and the latest news is: –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-33126885
    .The European Space Agency (Esa) says its comet lander, Philae, has woken up and contacted Earth.

    Philae, the first spacecraft to land on a comet, was dropped on to the surface of Comet 67P by its mothership, Rosetta, last November.

    It worked for 60 hours before its solar-powered battery ran flat.

    The comet has since moved nearer to the sun and Philae has enough power to work again, says the BBC’s science correspondent Jonathan Amos.

    The probe tweeted the message, “Hello Earth! Can you hear me?”

    On its blog, Esa said that Philae contacted Earth, via Rosetta, for 85 seconds in the first contact since going into hibernation in November.



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  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-33206661

    Europe’s Philae comet lander has been back in touch with Earth – its first contact since Sunday night (GMT).

    The communication was relayed by its mothership Rosetta, which is in orbit around the 4km-wide icy dirt-ball known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    The signal was picked up by the US space agency’s huge Goldstone antenna in California and then passed to the European Space Agency in Germany.

    Before last weekend, Philae had been in hibernation for seven months.

    There is now a second contact since the reawakening, so we can expect some more transmissions as the comet approaches the Sun.



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  • I’m not sure why, but I find this venture more awe-inspiring than almost any other scientific/engineering achievement. It’s such an extraordinary thing to have done.

    Huzzah for the unquenchable spirit of humanity!



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