“This comet is very, very rough. But this is what we have, and this is what we are trying to do. We have to be a bit lucky as well.” (Andreas Accomazzo, Rosetta operations manager at ESA)
The long day started this morning (in GMT) when the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander had successfully made separation and started its descent to land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The whole process took seven hours, with a signal confirming touchdown received by ESA team at around 16:00 GMT.
Ambition is a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA
The challenges of this kind of mission are many, even when the separation goes well and the landers are in the right position. The main hurdles are represented by the uneven surface of comets, their low gravity and the fact that probes’ landing systems have no way to maneuver at the last minute. They have to make it right straight from the descent phase.
“We are extremely relieved to be safely on the surface of the comet, especially given the extra challenge of the comet’s unusual shape and unexpectedly hazardous surface. In the next hours we’ll learn exactly where and how we’ve landed, and we’ll start getting as much science as we can from the surface of this fascinating world.” (Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center)
Now that the Philae lander is safely on the ground, it will start obtaining the first images ever taken from a comet’s surface, performing drillings and studying its terrain’s composition. It is expected the probe will remain functioning for two-and-a-half days, while Rosetta will keep orbiting around the comet through 2015, following its behaviour whilst it approaches the sun and then moves away.