The Rosetta team has finally been granted clearance to go ahead and land on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency announced today. The Rosetta spacecraft will attempt to send Rosetta’s lander called Philae, to the surface of the comet on November 12th, and be the first craft of any kind to land on the surface of a comet.
The current plan is to send Philae to a spot on the comet being called Site J, which is the smaller portion of the two-part comet. Many have made comparisons to a rubber duck, as from a distance, the comet does, in fact, look like a rubber duck. The comet is 2.5 miles-wide, and the landing zone is going to be on the smaller portion of the two-part mass.
The Rosetta spacecraft has been getting closer and closer to the comet and has made the journey all the way from 62 miles on August 6th to just 6 miles currently. However, the current go ahead should not automatically assume that Philae will be landing on 67P no matter what. In fact, the craft will have several smaller check points to reach before they are landing, and the mission to land could be aborted at any time between now and then, should the risk outweigh the obvious benefits.
The smaller craft Philae will use ice screws, and harpoons to ensure that the craft doesn’t pick up, or move about while it’s on the comet – after landing. However, the span of time at which the craft can remain on the comet will largely depend on factors like dust clouding the solar panels, how effective recharging is of the crafts batteries, and how well the instruments work as the comet continues to get closer to the sun. It’s expected that Philae will only be able to remain on the comet until March, at latest, when it becomes too hot for the craft to function.
Regardless, even with a decent amount of uncertainty remaining this is a very exciting announcement for those who have been following the Rosetta spacecraft, and members of the European Space Agency. This will be an impressive event that takes place, should the craft be able to fully land on November 12th.