The European Space Agency (ESA)’s Rosetta satellite is ready to send its piggybacked Philae probe towards the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday. After a decade-long journey through the solar system, Rosetta reached the orbit of 67P in August. The craft is just six miles away from the comet’s surface. If everything goes as planned, Philae will descend from the spacecraft and make a historic landing on a comet.
Philae and Rosetta both in excellent shape
The ESA scientists said in a statement that all looked good ahead of the landing. The mothership (Rosetta) and probe (Philae) both are in excellent shape. Matt Taylor, project scientist for the Rosetta mission, said that landing commands have already been loaded on Philae. Monday evening, scientists sent an instruction to turn on and warm up the probe. Philae will separate from its mothership on Wednesday at 10:03 AM Central European Time (CET).
Touchdown on the comet is expected to take place about seven hours later at 5:05 AM CET. Rosetta is currently moving on a slow, long arc around the comet 67P. On Wednesday at a pre-determined time, it will turn and move towards the comet, dispatching its probe on the path to the targeted landing zone. Scientists have already identified the safest possible landing site.
Rosetta to face tough challenges
However, there are a lot of challenges before the mission controllers. Precise execution of this pre-delivery maneuver is a big challenge. If Rosetta’s thruster doesn’t burn on expected lines, it won’t be in the right position to dispatch the probe for landing. The point of separation is fixed in altitude, velocity, time and space, the ESA flight director Andrea Accomazzo told BBC News.
The landing site is considered challenging. It contains several cliffs, steep slopes and boulders. Comet 67P is moving at a speed of more than 85,000 miles per hour. Even if Philae’s speed varies from its planned speed by just one centimeter per second, it will hit 67P about 270 yards away from the targeted landing site.