ESA Says Rosetta Comet Chasing Spacecraft Is Fully Awake
January 30, 2014

ESA Says Rosetta Comet Chasing Spacecraft Is Fully Awake

[ Watch the Video: Rosetta Mission Is On Track To Rendezvous With Comet ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After more than a week of post-hibernation tests and check-ups, the European Space Agency has announced that its comet-chasing craft Rosetta is fully operational and ready to begin the active stage of its mission to study and land a probe on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

“We were most concerned about power, and seeing if the solar arrays were generating sufficient electricity to support the planned re-commissioning activities,” said Andrea Accomazzo, an operations manager at the ESA. “But even though we were still [418 million miles] from the Sun, we were getting enough power and the arrays appear to have come through hibernation with no degradation.”

Rosetta began waking up on January 20th to start the last leg of its 10-year journey to its target comet. Following confirmation that Rosetta had exited hibernation, the craft was warmed up and set to ‘safe mode’, began transmitting a straightforward radio tone by way of its S-band transmitter and waiting for directions from Earth. After multiple hours, the Flight Control Team had established complete control and activated the far more effective X-band transmitter. This permitted the high-rate sending of details on the craft’s propulsion status, attitude-keeping, energy systems, and other vital signs.

Additional checks have allowed the ESA scientists to determine that the other systems of comet chaser systems are also working properly.

“We are now back online with a fully functional spacecraft,” Accomazzo said.

The ESA team said the next few weeks will be devoted to evaluating and setting up onboard flight systems – like the solid-state mass memory, which is used to keep science and mission data prior to download.

The coming phase of the mission, lasting through April, will see ESA teams re-commissioning Rosetta’s eleven scientific instruments. This will likely be accomplished on individualized schedules coordinated from the Rosetta Mission Operations Centre. In March, Rosetta’s lander, Philae, will be started up for the very first time since the craft emerged from its deep sleep. It will also be re-commissioned to verify its systems and ten scientific instruments are properly operating.

“Over the next three months we will be making sure that each instrument is ready to perform once we finally arrive at the comet, after 10 years journeying through the Solar System,” said Fred Jansen, Rosetta mission manager.

“Rosetta is equipped with a range of experiments that will tell us everything about the characteristics of this comet and how its behavior changes as we get closer to the Sun, ultimately giving us a better picture of the role comets have played in our Solar System’s evolution,” added Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist.

On Wednesday, the ESA announced the winner of its “Wake up, Rosetta!” contest. To celebrate the end of the ESA craft’s hibernation, contestants were asked to make a video selfie using the phrase “Wake up, Rosetta!”

The ESA said submitted videos ranged from humble bedroom recordings to school-wide endeavors. Winners were decided based on online voting.

“Each of the top 10 videos will be transmitted into space via one of ESA’s 35-meter diameter deep-space tracking dishes in a few weeks’ time,” the ESA said in a statement. “Each person or team who submitted a top ten video will also receive a gift bag containing a selection of ESA-branded souvenirs”

Two of the top entries were so impressive that the makers have been invited to the space agency’s control center in Darmstadt, Germany for a VIP event celebrating the first-ever landing on a comet this November, the ESA said in a statement.