The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which involves a probe orbiting Comet 67P (also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko), will finally be coming to an end after 12 years of study. The space agency has scheduled September 30th as the spacecraft’s last, where it will make a controlled crash into the surface of its partnering space rock. Think of it like a viking funeral, but only for a space probe.
The ESA explains that it’s not really possible for the Rosetta spacecraft to continue its mission, as Comet 67P is now getting close to Jupiter, putting it very far away from the Sun. That means not enough solar power for the probe to continue operation, let alone guarantee its survival.
While Rosetta was placed into a low-power hibernation mode for a period of 31 months in 2011 during its most distant travel to reach the comet, another hibernation now wouldn’t do much to help. The probe is now orbiting Comet 67P, and on its current path it will travel some 525 million miles from the Sun — farther than it’s ever been before. This, combined with Rosetta’s age, means it’s simply time for retirement.
The spacecraft has been key in providing images, measurements, and a number of discoveries relating to Comet 67P. Just recently it captured data that suggested the comet’s dust contained the amino acid glycine, a known building block of life. ESA scientists add that analyzing data from the probe will keep them busy for several years.
Of course, Rosetta will still continue its work right up until the very end. The probe will start moving into position in August, and the last six weeks will see it make its final orbits around the comet. Then, during its final descent, it will capture high-resolution images and other data from its close proximity, transferring it to the ESA before it touches down.
SOURCE European Space Agency