Rosetta Spacecraft Lands Robot on a Comet


Amanda Wills reports: In one of the biggest space successes in years, a spacecraft named Rosetta landed a refrigerator-sized robot onto a comet.

Operated by the European Space Agency, the mission had a 70% chance of success. If Rosetta was just millimeters off on the drop, it could have resulted in total failure.


This landing is the main reason Rosetta made the 10-year journey to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is currently orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

Rosetta deployed Philae early on Wednesday from about 14 miles away from the center of the comet. Philae is now on its own. The descent took about seven hours. The Rosetta team received the signal from Philae around 11 a.m. ET.

How it all went down

If you’re just tuning in, however, here are the highlights:

2:57 a.m ET:

Rosetta and Philae were cleared for separation despite some issues with the active descent system. Its cold gas thruster, which was designed to push the spacecraft onto the comet as harpoons and ice screws lock it to the surface, wasn’t working.

4:07 a.m. ET:

Separation was confirmed. It takes the radio signals on Rosetta 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth, which means separation actually occurred at 3:35 a.m. ET.

6:09 a.m. ET:

Contact was made with Philae around 6 a.m. ET. ESA confirmed that: “Mission control have regained contact as expected after separation.”

9:20 a.m. ET

Philae sent back its first photo from its landing attempt. The image shows Rosetta’s solar panels…(read more)

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