My guess is you guys all know about Rosetta, ESA’s awesome comet chaser that operates on solar energy alone. The spacecraft entered deep-space hibernation mode in June 2011 as it cruised out to a distance of nearly 800 million km from the warmth of the Sun, beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
Now, as Rosetta’s orbit has brought it back to within ‘only’ 673 million km from the Sun, there is enough solar energy to power the spacecraft fully again.
Two days ago, about 9 million km from the comet, Rosetta’s pre-programmed internal ‘alarm clock’ woke up the spacecraft. After warming up its key navigation instruments, coming out of a stabilizing spin, and aiming its main radio antenna at Earth, Rosetta sent a signal to let mission operators know it had survived the most distant part of its journey.
Rosetta called home.
Video highlight showing receipt of signal from ESA’s Rosetta comet chaser after 31 months of deep-space hibernation. Teams at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, leapt for joy as the signal was confirmed via NASA’s 70m tracking stations in California and Australia. This event was announced via the @ESA_Rosetta twitter account, which tweeted:
“We have our comet-chaser back,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “With Rosetta, we will take comet exploration to a new level. This incredible mission continues our history of ‘firsts’ at comets, building on the technological and scientific achievements of our first deep space mission Giotto, which returned the first close-up images of a comet nucleus as it flew past Halley in 1986.”
Now we are eagerly waiting for the spacecraft to make rendezvous with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and become the first space mission to rendezvous with a comet, the first to attempt a landing on a comet’s surface, and the first to follow a comet as it swings around the Sun.