The Rosetta mission, being undertaken by ESA, aims to research the history of how our Solar System was formed by investigating one of the oldest and most primordial of heavenly bodies, a comet. The mission consists of one orbiter and the Philae lander. DLR played a major role in building the lander and runs the lander control centre which is preparing for and overseeing the difficult task of landing on the comet, a feat never before accomplished.
Comets have irregular and rather potato-like shapes – this is a well-known fact. But the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the Philae lander is scheduled to descend in November 2014, has an unexpected shape.
The European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft and its lander Philae are currently around two million kilometres from their target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Even at this distance, images acquired by the OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) camera system already show the comet awakening on its way towards the Sun, enveloped in a cloud of small dust particles. Using these observations, the OSIRIS science team, which includes planetary researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), have been able to determine the comet’s rotation period with additional precision – 12.4 hours. In August, Rosetta will arrive at the comet, and will deploy the Philae lander onto the comet’s surface in November – the first ever landing on a comet.
More than two and a half years – this is how long the Philae lander has been hibernating while travelling through space on board the European Space Agency ESA Rosetta spacecraft. On 28 March, the lander was successfully reactivated and broke its planned radio silence by sending data to Earth from a distance of about 655 million kilometres.