Rosetta Probe Swoops Closer to Comet Destination than ISS is to Earth and Reveals Exquisite Views

Europe’s Rosetta comet hunter achieved another milestone today, Aug 4, swooping in closer to its long sought destination than the International Space Station (ISS) is to Earth – and its revealing the most exquisitely sharp and detailed view yet of the never before visited icy wanderer soaring half a billion kilometers from the Sun.

The absolutely delightful photo above is the latest navcam taken of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta’s navcam camera on Aug. 3 from a distance of 300 kilometers and shows rocks, gravel and tiny crater like features on its craggily surface of smooth and rough terrain with deposits of water ice.

Rosetta will make history as Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous with and enter orbit around a comet.

Now barely a day away from rendezvous, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) robotic Rosetta spacecraft has closed to a distance of less than 300 kilometers away from Comet 67P and the crucial orbital insertion engine firing.

By comparison, the ISS and its six person crew orbits Earth at an altitude of some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles).

And its getter even closer! – Essentially to what we would call ‘the edge of space’ on Earth; 100 kilometers or 62 miles.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM   Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Having successfully completed the penultimate orbit correction maneuver on Aug. 3, the engineering team at mission control at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany is making final preparations for the probes crucial last orbital insertion burn set for Wednesday, Aug. 6.

The Aug. 3 thruster firing known as the Close Approach Trajectory – pre-Insertion (CATP) burn lasted some 13 minutes and 12 seconds and reduced the spacecraft speed as planned by about 3.2 m/s.

“All looks good,” says Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, according to an ESA operations tweet.

The final thruster firing upcoming soon on Aug. 6 is known as the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn.

The CATI orbit insertion firing will slow Rosetta to essentially the same speed as comet 67P and place it in an initial orbit at a distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

The CATP and CATI trajectory firings have the combined effect of slowing Rosetta’s speed by some 3.5 m/s with respect to the comet which is traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

After a ten year chase of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space and slingshots past Earth and Mars, the 1.3 Billion Euro spacecraft is at last ready to arrive at Comet 67P for a mission expected to last some 17 months.

The Navcam camera has been commanded to capture daily images of the comet that rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

See below our mosaic of navcam camera approach images of the nucleus captured of the mysterious two lobed comet, merged at a bright band in between as well as an OSIRIS camera image of the expanding coma cloud of water and dust..

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

After orbital inertion on Aug. 6, Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long triangular arcs while firings thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

Here is an ESA video showing Rosetta’s movements around the comet after arrival

Video caption: ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft will reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014. After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. Credit: ESA

After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus.  This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide.  Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus. This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

In November 2014, Rosetta will attempt another historic first when it deploys the piggybacked Philae science lander from an altitude of just about 2.5 kilometers above the comet for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

You can watch Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival live from 10:45-11:45 CEST via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NAVCAM camera image taken on 2 August 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
NAVCAM camera image taken on 2 August 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn

The Rosetta comet chaser is currently less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following today’s (Aug. 3) successful completion of the spacecraft’s critically important penultimate trajectory burn, just three days before its history making arrival at the comet on Aug. 6.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) 1.3 Billion euro Rosetta spacecraft is now under three days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous with and enter orbit around a comet after a decade long hunt of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space. The gap is narrowing with each passing second.

The last trajectory firing is set for Aug. 6. Altogether the final pair of trajectory burns will reduce the spacecrafts speed by some 3.5 meters per second (m/s) with respect to the comet which is traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

The probes latest Navcam camera image shot on Aug. 2, 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows exquisite detail of the rubber ducky shaped body tumbling end over end. See above.

See below our mosaic of navcam camera approach images of the nucleus captured over the past week and a half of the mysterious two lobed comet, merged at a bright band in between.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail.
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

In November 2014, the Rosetta mothership will attempt another historic first when it deploys the Philae science lander from an altitude of just 1 or 2 kilometers for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer wide (2.5 mile) comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? That’s a question the Rosetta science team seeks to help answer.

Today’s early morning thruster firing, officially known as the Close Approach Trajectory – pre-Insertion (CATP) burn, began as scheduled at 11:00 CEST (09:00 GMT) and was due to last for about 13 minutes and 12 seconds and bleed off some 3.2 m/s of spacecraft speed.

Although it ended a few seconds early, ESA reports that the CATP burn went well as engineers monitored the spacecraft communications at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany via the agency’s 35 meter deep-space tracking station in New Norcia, Australia.

“All looks good,” says Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, according to an ESA operations tweet.

CATP is part of the final series of ten orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s) that culminates with the final thruster firing slated for Aug. 6 dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn.

“The CATI burn will reduce the relative velocity to about 1 m/s,” says Lodiot. That’s about equivalent to human walking speed.

The CATI orbit insertion firing will slow Rosetta to essentially the same speed as a comet and place it in orbit at an initial stand-off distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long triangular arcs while firings thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus.  This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide.  Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus. This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

“All systems on the spacecraft are performing well and the entire team is looking forward to a smooth arrival,” says Lodiot.

It will study and map the wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more and search for a suitable landing site for Philae.

The one-way signal time from Earth to Rosetta and Comet 67P is currently 22 minutes and 27 seconds as both loop around the Sun at a distance of some 555 million kilometres away from the Sun at this time. The short period comet is located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

Rosetta will escort Comet 67P as they journey together inwards around the sun and then travel back out towards Jupiter’s orbit and investigate the physical properties and chemical composition of the comets nucleus and coma of ice and dust for some 17 months.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

You can watch Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival live from 10:45-11:45 CEST via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Rosetta Closing in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after Decade Long Chase

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 to July 31, 2014, with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s coma on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km. On July 31 Rosetta had approached to within 1327 km. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is at last rapidly closing in on its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a decade long chase of 6.4 billion kilometers through interplanetary space. See imagery above and below.

As of today, Friday, August 1, ESA reports that Rosetta has approached the ‘rubber ducky looking’ comet to within a distance of less than 1153 kilometers. That distance narrows with each passing moment as the speeding robotic probe moves closer and closer to the comet while looping around the sun at about 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

Rosetta is now just 5 days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous and enter orbit around a comet.

See above our image collage of Rosetta nearing final approach with the spacecrafts most recent daily Navcam camera images, all taken within the past week starting on July 25 and including up to the most recently release image snapped on July 31. The navcam images are all to scale to give the sense of the spacecraft approaching the comet and revealing ever greater detail as it grows in apparent size in the cameras field of view. The navcam images were also taken at about the same time of day each day.

The highest resolution navcam image yet of the two lobed comet – merged at a bright band – was taken on July 31 from a distance of 1327 kilometers and published within the past few hours by ESA today, Aug 1. It shows the best view yet of the surface features of the mysterious bright necked wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more.

The Navcam collage is combined with an OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) wide angle camera view of the comet and its asymmetric coma of ice and dust snapped on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km, and with an exposure time of 300 seconds. The OSIRIS image covers an area of about 150 x 150 km (90 mi x 90 mi). The images have been contrast enhanced to bring out more detail.

Scientists speculate that the comets bright neck region could be caused by differences in material or grain size or topological effects.

Rosetta’s history making orbital feat is slated for Aug. 6 following the final short duration orbit insertion burns on Aug. 3 and Aug. 6 to place Rosetta into orbit at an altitude of about 100 kilometers (62 miles) where it will study and map the 4 kilometer wide comet for some 17 months.

The comet rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

“If any glitches in space or on ground had delayed the most recent burns, orbital mechanics dictate that we’d only have had a matter of a few days to fix the problem, re-plan the burn and carry it out, otherwise we run the risk of missing the comet,” says Trevor Morley, a flight dynamics specialist at ESOC.

In November 2014 the Rosetta mothership will deploy the Philae science lander for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus using harpoons to anchor itself to the surface while the comet is rotating.

As Rosetta edges closer on its final lap, engineers at mission control at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany have commanded the probes navigation camera (navcam) to capture daily images while the other science instruments also collect measurements analyzing the comets physical characteristics and chemical composition in detail.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant).  Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation.  Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant). Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The probe has already discovered that the comet’s surface temperature is surprisingly warm at –70ºC, which is some 20–30ºC warmer than predicted. This indicates the surface is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust, says ESA.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a short period comet some 555 million kilometres from the Sun at this time, about three times further away than Earth and located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

You can watch the Aug. 6 orbital arrival live via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

While you were reading this the gap between the comet and Rosetta closed to less than 1000 kilometers!

The coma of Rosetta's target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The coma of Rosetta’s target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days... #ESOC. Credit:  ESA
Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days… #ESOC. Credit: ESA