July 21, 2016 – Rosetta is set to complete its mission in a controlled descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30. The mission is coming to an end as a result of the spacecraft’s ever-increasing distance from the Sun and Earth, which reduces the ability to collect the solar energy that powers the spacecraft.
As the spacecraft nears the end of its mission, scientists and engineers have been determining the best impact site. They have decided on a region called Ma’at on the small comet lobe. Ma’at has some active pits, which makes its scientifically interesting, and it also fits key operational constraints involved in executing the descent.
The final hours of descent will enable Rosetta to make many once-in-a-lifetime measurements, including very-high-resolution imaging, boosting Rosetta’s science return with precious close-up data achievable only through such a unique conclusion.
“We’re trying to squeeze as many observations in as possible before we run out of solar power,” said Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist. “30 September will mark the end of spacecraft operations, but the beginning of the phase where the full focus of the teams will be on science. That is what the Rosetta mission was launched for and we have years of work ahead of us, thoroughly analyzing its data.”
The expected time for Rosetta’s contact with the surface of the comet is approximately 12:30 CEST / 10:30 UTC. The impact will take place at about 50 cm/s, roughly half the landing speed of Philae in November 2014. Commands uploaded in the days before will automatically ensure that the transmitter as well as all attitude and orbit control units and instruments are switched off upon impact, to fulfill spacecraft disposal requirements.
More details on the timeline and likely data to be taken during the descent will be released soon.
ESA member states and NASA contributed to the Rosetta mission. Airbus Defense and Space built the Rosetta spacecraft. JPL manages the US contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL also built the Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter and hosts its principal investigator, Samuel Gulkis. The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio developed the Rosetta orbiter’s Ion and Electron Sensor (IES) and hosts its principal investigator, James Burch. The Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado developed the Alice instrument and hosts its principal investigator, Alan Stern.