Update: And it’s all over. Mission managers confirmed that the mission ended at 7:19 a.m. ET (12:19 a.m. GMT) with the loss of Rosetta’s signal after the spacecraft struck the comet. A great mission has just come to an end.
Original message: It’s time for Europe’s comet probe Rosetta to die. At 4:48 p.m. ET on Thursday, the spacecraft fired its thruster for 208 seconds, putting Rosetta on course for a controlled descent to the surface of its comet on Friday morning at about 7:20 a.m. ET (12:20 a.m. UK).
In accordance with the spacecraft’s descent to the surface, the European Space Agency will provide live coverage via Livestream approximately one hour before landing. The live video includes status updates from mission controllers, live from the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.
The spacecraft arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, which is about 4 km on its longest side. It became the first mission to orbit a comet and, with its small Philae lander, the first to probe the comet’s surface. Now the main probe will track Philae to the surface.
This must be done because the comet is now moving away from the sun at great speed and Rosetta’s spacecraft can no longer collect enough solar energy to perform all of its functions. Engineers have already had to turn instruments on and off because the solar power can’t support them all at once. As the comet moves deeper into the solar system, the remaining fuel on board the spacecraft would freeze.
Before that, the Europeans slowly bring Rosetta down, with a walking pace of about 90 cm/s. They hope to collect data and images as far as the comet’s dark surface. Like Philae, who tumbled after his harpoon anchors failed to fire, Rosetta can bounce slightly upon reaching the surface. Once there, however, it will be ordered to shut down so the main transmitter doesn’t randomly send out signals that could interfere with other spacecraft communicating with Earth.
List image by ESA