Zee Media Bureau
Paris: European Space Agency`s spacecraft Rosetta on Wednesday made history in space as it caught up with a comet on its journey around the sun.
This development comes after a 10-year journey, six-billion-kilometre (3.7-billion-mile) chase through the Solar System.
“We`re at the comet,” Rosetta`s flight operations manager, Sylvain Lodiot, declared in a webcast from mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
Thus, Europe`s Rosetta becomes the first ever space probe to rendezvous with a comet, a wanderer of the Solar System whose primeval dust and ice could hold insights into how the planets formed.
In November, Rosetta will release a small robot lander called `Philae` onto the surface to make the first-ever landing on a comet. Once attached to the comet, the lander will begin its science mission.
Rosetta`s rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was confirmed at 0929 GMT, at a distance of 400 million km from Earth, according to signals received at ground stations.
ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain hailed the achievement, the fruit of 20 years` work to design, build and launch the three-tonne spacecraft and steer it to its target.
Dordain said: “Rosetta is a unique mission, unique by its scientific goal”. “Understanding our origins is certainly the best way to understand our future.”
Rosetta was launched in March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket. It has since then, travelled more than 6 billion kilometres through the solar system, flying by Earth three times and Mars once, using their gravitational force as a slingshot to build up speed to catch up with its prey.
It entered a 31-month hibernation as light from the distant Sun became too weak for its solar panels. That period ended in January with a wake-up call sent from Earth.
It then began a complex series of manoeuvres to slow down to walking speed with the comet.
The final one was a small firing of thrusters, lasting just six minutes and 26 seconds, from 0900 GMT, it said.
“This burn will tip Rosetta into the first leg of a series of three-legged triangular paths about the comet,” ESA said.
The signals confirming the start and stop of the crucial final operation were received by ground monitoring stations 22 minutes later.
According to Sylvain Lodiot, the “pyramidal” orbits will put the craft at a height of about 100 kilometres (60 miles) above the comet. Each leg of the triangle will be around 100 kilometres and take Rosetta between three and four days to complete.
(With Agency Inputs)
Photo credit: ESA