Home > space exploration > European Space Agency decides Philae’s landing spot on comet

European Space Agency decides Philae’s landing spot on comet

The site for humanity’s first-ever attempt to land a spacecraft on a comet has been chosen.

Philae, the tiny lander being carried by the Rosetta probe, will attempt on Nov. 12 to anchor itself to an area on the smaller of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The location is known as Site J.

This image, obtained by Rosetta from 30 kilometers away, shows Site J. Courtesy European Space Agency.

This image, obtained by Rosetta from 30 kilometers away, shows Site J. Courtesy European Space Agency.

“Now that we know where we are definitely aiming for, we are an important step closer to carrying out this exciting – but high-risk – operation,” Fred Jansen, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager, said in a statement released Oct. 15.

Rosetta itself is now about 10 kilometers away from the comet. It will launch Philae, if all goes according to plan, when it is about 22.5 kilometers from the comet’s center.

Philae’s journey to the comet will take about seven hours. Communication confirming a successful landing on the comet can be expected to arrive at Earth during the early- to mid-morning hours in North America.

Rosetta’s mission team will confirm that the probe is on the correct trajectory and that Philae is ready to receive computer commands before the final authorization to send the tiny lander to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is transmitted.

Philae will not be idle during its movement from Rosetta to the comet. It will study the comet’s dust, gas, and plasma while moving slowly through the short distance in space.

This graphic details the steps in Philae's process of moving from the Rosetta probe to a landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Courtesy European Space Agency.

This graphic details the steps in Philae’s process of moving from the Rosetta probe to a landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Courtesy European Space Agency.

Mission planners are not sure how much time Philae will have, once anchored on the comet, to study its nucleus and other features. The lander has a solar-powered battery, which will provide more or less energy depending on the degree to which the solar power receiver is covered by dust from the comet.

ESA said in a press release that Philae is not expected to be able to conduct scientific observations of the comet past March 2015.

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