“This is fantastic news for science,” said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta Project Scientist, as he speaks on extending the life of their thought-dead research. Rosetta was originally launched in 2004, bringing its lander Philae to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It arrived in August of 2014, did some studies of the environment from up high, and deployed its lander Philae on the 12th of November. From there, things went dark. Just about 57 hours after landing and beginning operations, Philae went dark, and things looked dim.
Now – just a few months later – Philae’s worken back up. After seeing the sun and bringing in enough solar power, Philae has re-awoken. While this is great news, it wasn’t necessarily enough to continue operations. The ESA had to vote to continue funding and continue research, as it was assumed that the mission was already effectively over.
The original Rosetta mission was funded only until December of 2015.
ESA’s Science Programme Committee voted positively, however, allowing the mission to continue for an additional nine months. This nine months will give the group the opportunity to use Philae’s data-collecting abilities for the full life of the craft.
After this additional nine months, the comet on which Philae rests will be far enough away from the Sun that it won’t be able to run, and it’ll be bye-bye for the mission.
“We’ll be able to monitor the decline in the comet’s activity as we move away from the Sun again,” said Taylor, “and we’ll have the opportunity to fly closer to the comet to continue collecting more unique data.”
“By comparing detailed ‘before and after’ data, we’ll have a much better understanding of how comets evolve during their lifetimes.”
Rosetta continues to ride near the comet as it flies through space. By the end of the mission for Philae, Rosetta will also have nearly run out of rocket fuel, and the ESA will send the craft “spiraling down to the comet over a period of about three months.”
So both Philae and Rosetta will ride aboard the comet as it continues to fly out and away from the sun and off into space.
“This time, as we’re riding along next to the comet,” said Patrick Martin, Rosetta Mission Manager VIA: ESA, “the most logical way to end the mission is to set Rosetta down on the surface.”