The final countdown: Where and when to watch end of Rosetta

28 Sep 2016

Artist's impression of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P. Image: ESA/ATG medialab

The ESA’s Rosetta mission to study Comet 67P will finally end after 786 days in space, but that’s not before it has a final send-off from people here on Earth.

The Rosetta mission was heralded as a great success from a scientific perspective, even though not everything went according to plan.

With a number of discoveries made that gave us a better understanding of comets and the wider universe, the time has now come for Rosetta to crash into the enormous chunk of space debris on 30 September.

Future Human

But before that, the ESA has confirmed a schedule to give it as best a send-off as possible, for a mission that took 10 years to travel across the vastness of space.

So what is in store for earthbound viewers in the days ahead?

29 September – Rosetta, this is your life

For starters, all content from Rosetta’s final moments will be broadcast online from a dedicated ESA webpage.

Starting on 29 September at 12.30pm UTC, the ESA will have a ‘This Is Your Life’ scientific rundown of the highlights of the Rosetta mission.

Among these included the discovery of water contained within Comet 67P, albeit it a much different composition of water than anything we would find on Earth.

Led by the Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor – who famously wore a controversial racy shirt on a televised update on the mission – a number of other ESA scientists will be on hand to go through many of the other highlights.

Meanwhile, millions of km away on Comet 67P, Rosetta will begin its final manoeuvres at 8.50pm UTC, at an altitude of about 19km above the comet.

30 September – the final countdown

On Friday morning of 30 September (8am UTC), the ESA will upload the last commands to the spacecraft.

This will help it fine-tune the spacecraft’s pointing, based on the navigation camera images taken shortly after the collision manoeuvre. This should occur at 10.40am UTC, give or take 20 minutes.

However, the time should eventually be narrowed down to a margin of error of just two minutes.

Rosetta landing site

This patch of Comet 67P will act as the landing site for Rosetta. Image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The ESA has confirmed there will be a short transmission of its final moments streamed, but due to the distance, the end of mission will only be confirmed 40 minutes after the impact has actually occurred.

The mission that began with the landing on Comet 67P will come to a fiery end, as it collides with the space debris; but its success gives great hope for future asteroid missions.

Among them is the OSIRIS-REx NASA mission that was launched earlier this month to map and return samples of the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic