The ESA’s Rosetta Satellite: The Sleeper Awakes

On 20 January, 2014, a European Space Agency (ESA) comet-chasing satellite woke up for work.  According to this article, the satellite, named Rosetta, was in hibernation for 31 months.  The ESA’s Rosetta satellite is waking up to meet with a certain comet in May 2014.  The “OK, I’m awake” signal was relayed to the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.  The ground station that first received the signal and then relayed it to the ESOC was the Goldstone Observatory in the Mojave Desert in California.

Launched in 2004, Rosetta then conducted two flybys of Earth, and one flyby of Mars and 2867 Steins (an asteroid).  It went into deep space hibernation in 2011, scheduled to wake up 31 months later.  Rosetta will rendezvous with a comet named Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014.  Upon making the rendezvous, the satellite will release a lander, named Philae, which will land on the comet.  The lander has at least nine different kinds of sensors for data gathering.  Philae’s sensors, plus the 12 others on Rosetta (details here), will help ESA scientists make the most comprehensive study of a comet yet.

Rosetta is named after the Rosetta Stone and is hoped to provide the key to interpreting how the Solar System looked before planets formed.  Philae is the island on which Rosetta’s “decryption key” was found.  See what ESA did?

If you are curious, you can see Rosetta’s route—where it’s been and where it’s going.  Just go to this ESA link and watch it unfold before your eyes.  It will help you understand how Rosetta is using the planets to help change direction and speed.  It will also show you how this clever use eventually helps it match, more or less, the comet’s highly elliptical orbit.  It’s an interactive page, so don’t forget to zoom out and tilt, etc.

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