PARIS, November 12. /TASS/. The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun the operation for the first in the history of cosmonautics landing of a spacecraft on a comet, ESA said on Wednesday.
The Philae research module has separated from the Rosetta space probe and started flight to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, received the spacecraft’s confirming signal at 10:03 am (12:03 pm, Moscow time) on Wednesday.
The separation was scheduled for 09:35 am, Central European Time (11:35 am, Moscow time). As the spacecraft are at a distance of more than 500 million kilometers from the Earth, the signal on the beginning of the Philae descent came to the ground control center only half an hour after the manoeuvre started. The landing operation will take nearly 7 hours: the lander is to make the touchdown on the surface of the celestial body at 17:02 pm (19:02 pm, Moscow time).
According to ESA, “Rosetta launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014. It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface. Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI.”
This is an extremely complicated operation also because of the unusual bilobate structure the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.
It took the Rosetta spacecraft more than 10 years of flight to approach the researched object. Over this period the space probe has covered more than 6.4 billion kilometres. The Philae module will have 4-6 months of operation in the comet surface.
Rosetta’s prime objective is to help understand the origin and evolution of the Solar System. The comet’s composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the Solar System formed, more than 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta and its lander will provide essential information to understand how the Solar System formed.