Comet-probing Rosetta spacecraft to ‘wake up’ this morning

20 Jan 2014

An artist's impression of the Rosetta spacecraft. Image via ESA - J Huart

The European Space Agency (ESA)’s Rosetta spacecraft is to ‘wake up’ at 10am GMT today, in the next step of its journey to probe an asteroid for information about the evolution of the solar system.

Rosetta has been in deep-space hibernation for the past 31 months, in an effort to conserve energy. Once its internal alarm clock goes off today, about about 800m km from Earth, it will take about another eight hours before it re-establishes communication with scientists back on Earth.

The team at ground control hopes to have confirmation that Rosetta is back up and running by 6.30pm GMT today, the ESA said.

Rosetta takes off

The spacecraft launched from Europe’s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, in 2004, and since then has circled the sun five times and picked up energy from Earth and Mars to line it up with its target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

While Rosetta travelled out towards the orbit of Jupiter in this most recent leg of its mission, scientists placed the spacecraft in hibernation.

Rosetta is to arrive at the comet in August. In November, the spacecraft is to deploy its Philae lander onto the comet’s surface. This would make Rosetta the first spacecraft to orbit the nucleus of a comet and land a probe on its surface, the ESA said.

By collecting data on the nature of the comet’s dust and gas, Rosetta will help scientists learn more about the role of comets in the evolution of the solar system.

The ESA is streaming live coverage of the wake-up of Rosetta from the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, on its website.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic