Rosetta probe has ended its mission to Comet 67P by crash-landing on to the icy object’s surface on September 30.
The impact had occurred when radio contact to Rosetta was lost abruptly, mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, has confirmed.
The assumption is that the probe would have been damaged beyond use.
In the hours before the planned collision, the ageing probe sent back a host of high-resolution pictures and other measurements of the icy dirt-ball.
ESA mission manager Patrick Martin said: “I can announce full success of this historic descent of Rosetta towards Comet 67P.”
“Farewell Rosetta; you’ve done the job. That was space science at its best.”
Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase
Researchers expect all the data gathered at Comet 67P in the past two years to keep them busy for decades to come.
The loss of signal, which happened at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST), was greeted by muted cheers and handshakes – not so surprising given the bittersweet nature of the occasion.
Some of the scientists watching on here in Darmstadt have spent the better part of 30 years on this project.
The researchers had wanted the descending probe to get a look inside one of the many pits that pockmark the surface.
Some of the images that came back were acquired just seconds before the collision.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is currently heading away from the Sun, limiting the solar energy available to Rosetta to operate its systems.
Rather than put the probe into hibernation or simply let it slowly fade into inactivity, the mission team determined that the venture should try to go out with a bang.
ESA project scientist Matt Taylor said that even if Rosetta was sent to sleep with the intention of waking it up again when 67P next visited the brighter environs of the inner Solar System – there was no guarantee the technology would still be working properly.
Because Rosetta was not designed to land, some of its structures very likely broke on contact with the comet. Controllers left no room for doubt in any case by pre-loading a software sequence that would jump the computers into a shutdown when the probe felt a big jolt.
Rosetta arrived at 67P in August 2014, after a 10-year journey from Earth.
The Philae robot probe on comet 67P has sent another stream of data back to Earth before losing power.
Everything expected from the Philae lander was delivered, just before low battery power dropped it into standby mode.
The robot is shadowed by a cliff and cannot get enough light on to its solar panels to recharge its systems.
Engineers fear this contact may have been its last – certainly for a while.
A tweet from the official Philae lander account said: “I’ll tell you more about my new home, comet 67P soon… zzzzz.”
Philae descended to the comet’s surface on November 12 – the first time in history that a space mission has made a soft landing on a comet.
The next opportunity to talk to Philae will come at around 11:00 GMT on November 15, when the orbiting Rosetta satellite – which delivered it to the 4km-wide “ice mountain” – comes over the horizon.
With only 1.5 hours of sunshine falling on the robot during the comet’s 12-hour day, it seems doubtful the battery will have recovered enough performance to complete the radio link.
Engineers did manage to maximize the possibility of it happening, though, by sending a command to reorientate the lander.
This involved raising Philae by 4cm and rotating its main housing by 35%. This will ensure the largest solar panel catches the most light.
Even if the probe falls silent over the weekend, researchers say they are thrilled with the amount of data already acquired.
Stephan Ulamec, lander manager, said: “Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence.
“This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered.”
In the latest tranche of data are the results from the drilling attempt made earlier in the day.
This had been an eagerly anticipated activity. Getting into the surface layers and bringing up a sample to analyze onboard was seen as central to the core mission of Philae.
Controllers say Cosac, the Philae laboratory that was due to receive the sample, downlinked its data, but that its contents had yet to be assessed.
Among other returns, Philae took another picture of the surface with its downward-looking Rolis camera.
It also exercised its Consert instrument. This is an experiment that sees Philae and Rosetta send radiowaves through the comet to try to discern its internal structure.
It has the additional possibility of being used to help triangulate a precise position for Philae on the comet’s surface.
This is still unknown. Although the robot hit the centre of its intended landing zone on Wednesday, it then bounced twice before coming to a stop.
Knowledge of that final resting location would enable engineers better to understand its predicament and the prospects for future contact if lighting conditions somehow change on 67P.
This could happen as the comet moves through space on its journey around the Sun. It will have seasons, just as the Earth does, and this could play to Philae’s advantage by altering the angle, timing and intensity of the sunlight hitting the solar panels.
Philae was launched from Earth, piggybacked to the Rosetta satellite, in 2004.
The pair covered 6.4 billion km to reach Comet 67P out near the orbit of Jupiter.
Scientists hope the investigations at the rubber-duck-shaped ball of ice and dust can provide fresh insights on the origins of the Solar System.
Whatever happens to Philae, Rosetta will continue to make its remote observations of 67P.
Philae probe is now stable and sending first pictures after a historic comet landing, but there are concerns about its battery life.
After two bounces, the first one about 1 mile back out into space, the lander settled in the shadow of a cliff, 1 mile from its target site.
It may be problematic to get enough sunlight to charge its batteries.
Launched in 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) mission hopes to learn about the origins of our Solar System.
It has already sent back the first images ever taken on the surface of a comet.
ESA’s Rosetta satellite carried Philae on a 10-year, 4 billion-mile journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which reached its climax on November 12.
Philae probe has sent first pictures after a historic comet landing (photo ESA)
After showing an image that indicates Philae’s location – on the far side of a large crater that was considered but rejected as a landing site – the head of the lander team Dr. Stefan Ulamec said: “We could be somewhere in the rim of this crater, which could explain this bizarre… orientation that you have seen.”
Figuring out the orientation and location is a difficult task, he said.
“I can’t really give you much more than you interpret yourself from looking at these beautiful images.”
The team is continuing to receive “great data” from several different instruments on board Philae.
It may be possible to reconfigure Philae’s landing gear and “hop” to a new location, but Dr. Stefan Ulamec said there may not be enough time to do the analysis required for such a risky strategy.
“There is a limited amount of battery power there and the solar panels are not really illuminated, so we don’t know precisely how long it’s going to last,” said Rosetta mission manager Dr. Fred Jansen.
Philae robot probe, the size of a washing machine, was dropped from the Rosetta satellite on Wednesday and spent seven hours travelling down to the icy body.
News of the “first” landing was confirmed at about 16:05 GMT on November 12.
Controllers re-established radio communication with the probe on cue on November 13 after a scheduled break, and began pulling of the new pictures.
These show the feet of the lander and the wider cometscape. One of the three feet is not in contact with the ground.
Philae is stable now, but there is still concern about the longer-term situation because the probe is not properly anchored – the harpoons that should have hooked it into the surface did not fire on contact. Neither did its feet screws get any purchase.
European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite will release the Philae lander on a seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12 at 08:35 GMT.
The flight team, based in Darmstadt, Germany, has confirmed that Rosetta is lined up correctly.
If Philae gets down successfully, it will be the first time that a robot has landed on the surface of a comet.
Confirmation is expected at Earth around 16:00 GMT.
If all goes to plan, the little robot, called Philae, will deploy screws and harpoons to secure its position on the comet after a seven-hour flight.
The first thing Philae will do on landing is send back a picture of its surroundings – a strange landscape containing deep pits and tall ice spires.
This is, though, an event with a highly uncertain outcome.
Early on November 12, the third “go” signal was delayed due to concerns over the health of the Philae lander.
“We almost didn’t get the third <<go>>,” said Paolo Ferri, head of operations at ESA.
The thruster system used to push the robot into the surface of the comet when it touches down could not be primed. This means Philae will now have nothing to push it into the surface of the comet.
Rosetta satellite will release the Philae lander on a seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P (photo AP)
“We will just have to rely now on the harpoons, the screws in the feet, or the softness of the surface. It doesn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure,” said lander chief Stephan Ulamec, from the German Space Agency. But the landing attempt goes ahead.
The terrain that has been chosen for the landing on the rubber-duck-shaped object is far from flat.
Philae could bash into cliffs, topple down a steep slope, or even disappear into a fissure.
ESA’s Rosetta mission manager Fred Jansen said that despite these challenges, he was very hopeful of a positive outcome.
“We’ve analyzed the comet, we’ve analyzed the terrain, and we’re confident that the risks we have are still in the area of the 75% success ratio that we always felt,” he told reporters here at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
The prize that awaits a successful landing is immense – the opportunity to sample directly a cosmic wonder.
Comets almost certainly hold vital clues about the original materials that went into building the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.
Mission control will closely monitor the mothership and lander as they move towards separation.
The vast distance between the comet and the Earth – 510 million km – means radio commands take almost half-an-hour to reach the spacecraft.
Nonetheless, the flight team must put Rosetta on a very precise path, to make sure Philae has the best opportunity of arriving squarely in the chosen landing zone.
These navigation instructions were due to be sent up late on Tuesday.
Once the 100kg robot is let go at 08:35, it has no means of adjusting its descent; Philae will go where the comet’s gravity pulls it.
Controllers in Darmstadt will want to hear not only that Philae landed in one piece but that it is securely fastened to the comet.
The nature and strength of the surface materials are unknown, however.
Philae could alight upon terrain whose constitution is anything between rock hard and puff-powder soft.
If it can, the robot will endeavor to lock itself in place with screws in its feet and harpoons that fire from its underside.
ESA has cautioned that success may require a large slice of luck in addition to the skill of all the teams involved.
Rosetta was dispatched from Earth to catch 67P in 2004. That means it and Philae were designed and built in the 1990s.
European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase.
In a first for space history, the spacecraft was maneuvered alongside a speeding body to begin mapping its surface in detail.
The European spacecraft fired its thrusters for six and a half minutes to finally catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
“We’re at the comet!” said Sylvain Lodiot of the ESA operations centre in Germany.
“After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally <<we are here>>,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of ESA.
Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase (photo ESA)
Launched on board an Ariane rocket in March 2004, Rosetta has taken a long route around our Solar System to catch up with comet 67P.
In a series of fly-pasts, the probe used the gravity of the Earth and Mars to increase its speed during the 6 billion km chase.
To save energy, controllers at ESA’s centre in Darmstadt, Germany, put Rosetta into hibernation for 31 months.
In January they successfully woke the craft from its slumber as it began the final leg of the daring encounter.
For the past two months, Rosetta has been carrying out a series of maneuvers to slow the probe down.
The comet is travelling at 55,000km per hour (34,175 mph). The spacecraft’s speed has been adjusted so that in relative terms it will be flying beside the comet at a slow walking pace of 1m/sec (2.2mph).
At a distance of 550 million km from the Earth, messages are taking over 22 minutes to get to Rosetta.
The distances involved are so great that the complex final command sequence for Wednesday’s crucial thruster burn had to be issued on Monday night.
Rosetta will have to continue to fire its thrusters every few days to maintain a hyperbolic orbit at 100km above the rotating rock.
The craft will then travel alongside the comet for the next 15 months, studying it with a range of instruments.
Rosetta has been taking increasingly detailed photographs of 67P as it gets closer. The mysterious comet has been dubbed the “rubber duck”, as some images seem to show the familiar shape as it twirls in space.
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