One of the most audacious space missions ever undertaken is about to come to an end. The Rosetta probe that has been tracking a comet for the past two years is going to deliberately crash itself into the 4km-wide ball of ice and dust.
European Space Agency scientists say the satellite has come to the end of its useful life and they want to get some final, ultra-close measurements. Rosetta is not expected to survive the impact with Comet 67P. But even if some of its systems remain functional, pre-loaded software on board will ensure everything is shut down on contact.
Controllers here at Esa’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, will command Rosetta to change course late on Thursday.
The manoeuvre will alter its wide orbit around the duck-shaped icy wanderer and put it on a direct collision course. The probe should hit the comet’s “head” at roughly walking pace at about 11:20 GMT (12:20 BST/1320 CEST) on Friday.
The crash velocity will be low, less than a metre per second, but Rosetta was never designed to land and so various components will almost certainly be crushed as it dumps down. “Just to give you an example, if the high-gain antenna is off-pointing by more than half a degree then there is no communication possible anymore,” said Esa spacecraft operations manager Sylvain Lodiot. Source: Rosetta probe heads for comet crash