European Space Agency (ESA)’s Rosetta spacecraft is set to ensconce itself in the orbit of a comet, it has been chasing for more than a decade.
On Wednesday, the craft started the final engine burn that will take it into the orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
It is going to take the probe half an hour to send back a signal showing the burn has done the trick.
“It’s the first time we have ever done this,” said Matt Taylor, a project scientist on Rosetta at ESA in the Netherlands. “Even the smallest maneuver can go wrong. Nothing is straightforward in spaceflight.”
The craft was launched on board an Ariane rocket in March 2004, travelling round the Solar System to catch up with the four-kilometer-wide comet.
According to the agency, the probe will spend about two years traveling alongside 67P and closely observing the comet.
“The time pressure at the moment is phenomenal. It’s a race against the clock to learn about the comet and select a landing site. We have to land before the comet becomes too active,” said Taylor. “We’ll get an inference of what’s possible in September, but we won’t want to land near the neck of these two parts of the comet. We need the best communications with the orbiter and also to maximise the sunlight the lander receives to give it the best chance to survive as long as possible.”
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