News Column

Rosetta: Comet-Chasing Craft's Wake-Up Call

January 20, 2014

Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) sounded Rosetta's internal alarm clock to reboot the mission after two and a half years of deep space slumber.

Once its systems warm up, Rosetta is due to beam a signal back to Earth before it begins to home in on a frozen rock known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

:: Watch live coverage of Rosetta's wake-up call

It is due to shoot harpoons into the 2.5-mile dirtball before landing on its surface - a move that has never been attempted before.

The mission has been likened to that of the action film Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis lands on an asteroid to save the world from destruction.

ESA project scientist Matt Taylor told the Sunday Telegraph: "It will be an amazing achievement for human endeavour, an Armageddon type thing.

"We're not just landing on the Moon, we're dealing with something dynamic, which is kicking off tonnes of dust and gas every minute."

Because Rosetta, which has been sleeping to save power, is so far from Earth, it will take 45 minutes for its signal to reach scientists at mission control.

They expect to see a blip on computer monitors between 1730 and 1830 GMT, indicating the spacecraft is up and running again.

If all goes to plan, it will arrive at Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August, when it will study the plume of gas and water vapour that will boil off and trail behind as the comet nears the Sun.

If the chemical signature of hydrogen matches that found in water on Earth, it will strongly comets filled the oceans when they smashed into the planet billions of years ago.

They may also have delivered some of the key ingredients for life.

Around half of the experiments on board involve British scientists, while the craft itself was designed and built by engineers at Astrium UK.

Ralph Cordey, head of science at the company, said the mission was hugely ambitious.

"It's interesting enough ... to actually design, build and launch a spacecraft, but to then see it travel around the solar system for 10 years to get to where it is now is just something else," he said.

More follows...

:: Watch the latest updates live on Sky News on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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Source: Sky News (UK)

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