Rosetta probe has ended its mission to Comet 67P by crash-landing on to the icy object’s surface on September 30.
The impact had occurred when radio contact to Rosetta was lost abruptly, mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, has confirmed.
The assumption is that the probe would have been damaged beyond use.
In the hours before the planned collision, the ageing probe sent back a host of high-resolution pictures and other measurements of the icy dirt-ball.
ESA mission manager Patrick Martin said: “I can announce full success of this historic descent of Rosetta towards Comet 67P.”
“Farewell Rosetta; you’ve done the job. That was space science at its best.”
Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase
Researchers expect all the data gathered at Comet 67P in the past two years to keep them busy for decades to come.
The loss of signal, which happened at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST), was greeted by muted cheers and handshakes – not so surprising given the bittersweet nature of the occasion.
Some of the scientists watching on here in Darmstadt have spent the better part of 30 years on this project.
The researchers had wanted the descending probe to get a look inside one of the many pits that pockmark the surface.
Some of the images that came back were acquired just seconds before the collision.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is currently heading away from the Sun, limiting the solar energy available to Rosetta to operate its systems.
Rather than put the probe into hibernation or simply let it slowly fade into inactivity, the mission team determined that the venture should try to go out with a bang.
ESA project scientist Matt Taylor said that even if Rosetta was sent to sleep with the intention of waking it up again when 67P next visited the brighter environs of the inner Solar System – there was no guarantee the technology would still be working properly.
Because Rosetta was not designed to land, some of its structures very likely broke on contact with the comet. Controllers left no room for doubt in any case by pre-loading a software sequence that would jump the computers into a shutdown when the probe felt a big jolt.
Rosetta arrived at 67P in August 2014, after a 10-year journey from Earth.
After more than 12 years in space, ESA’s Rosetta mission is set to end its flight.
The Rosetta probe that has been tracking a comet for the past two years is going to deliberately crash itself into the 2.5mile-wide ball of ice and dust.
European Space Agency (ESA) 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/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Even if some of its systems remain functional, pre-loaded software on board will ensure everything is shut down on contact.
On September 29, controllers at ESA’s operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, commanded Rosetta to change course.
Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase
The maneuver altered the mission’s wide orbit around the duck-shaped icy wanderer and put it on a direct collision course.
It is a 12 mile descent that should lead to the probe hitting the comet’s “head” at roughly walking pace at about 11:20 GMT on September 30.
The crash velocity will be low but Rosetta was never designed to land and so various components will almost certainly be crushed as it dumps down.
Rosetta arrived at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014, after a 10-year journey from Earth.
In the 25 months the mission has lived alongside the mountainous object it has acquired more than 100,000 images and instrument readings.
These have provided an unprecedented insight into the behaviur of the comet, its structure and chemistry.
Rosetta even dropped a small robot called Philae on to the surface in November 2014 to gather additional information – a historic first in space exploration.
Comets are thought to be the near-pristine leftovers from the formation of the Solar System, and so all the data sent back from 67P will give scientists a remarkable glimpse into the conditions that existed four and a half billion years ago.
Scientists have confirmed that the Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of Comet 67P.
Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history.
The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere.
Other analyzes suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer.
The European Space Agency (ESA) craft touched down on the Comet 67P on November 12 after a 10-year journey.
It has not been disclosed which molecules have been found, or how complex they are.
The results are likely to provide insights into the possible role of comets in contributing some of the chemical building blocks to the primordial mix from which life evolved on the early Earth.
Preliminary results from the Mupus instrument, which deployed a hammer to the comet after Philae’s landing, suggest there is a layer of dust 10-20cm thick on the surface with very hard water-ice underneath.
The ice would be frozen solid at temperatures encountered in the outer Solar System – Mupus data suggest this layer has a tensile strength similar to sandstone.
After bouncing off the surface at least twice, Philae came to a stop in some sort of high-walled trap.
Scientists had to race to perform as many key tests as they could before Philae’s battery life ran out at the weekend.
A key objective was to drill a sample of “soil” and analyze it in Cosac’s oven. But, disappointingly, the latest information suggests no soil was delivered to the instrument.
Scientists are hopeful however that as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko approaches the Sun in coming months, Philae’s solar panels will see sunlight again. This might allow the batteries to re-charge, and enable the lander to perform science once more.
The lander’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), designed to provide information on the elemental composition of the surface, seems to have partially seen a signal from its own lens cover – which could have dropped off at a strange angle because Philae was not lying flat.
European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite will release the Philae lander on a seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12 at 08:35 GMT.
The flight team, based in Darmstadt, Germany, has confirmed that Rosetta is lined up correctly.
If Philae gets down successfully, it will be the first time that a robot has landed on the surface of a comet.
Confirmation is expected at Earth around 16:00 GMT.
If all goes to plan, the little robot, called Philae, will deploy screws and harpoons to secure its position on the comet after a seven-hour flight.
The first thing Philae will do on landing is send back a picture of its surroundings – a strange landscape containing deep pits and tall ice spires.
This is, though, an event with a highly uncertain outcome.
Early on November 12, the third “go” signal was delayed due to concerns over the health of the Philae lander.
“We almost didn’t get the third <<go>>,” said Paolo Ferri, head of operations at ESA.
The thruster system used to push the robot into the surface of the comet when it touches down could not be primed. This means Philae will now have nothing to push it into the surface of the comet.
Rosetta satellite will release the Philae lander on a seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P (photo AP)
“We will just have to rely now on the harpoons, the screws in the feet, or the softness of the surface. It doesn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure,” said lander chief Stephan Ulamec, from the German Space Agency. But the landing attempt goes ahead.
The terrain that has been chosen for the landing on the rubber-duck-shaped object is far from flat.
Philae could bash into cliffs, topple down a steep slope, or even disappear into a fissure.
ESA’s Rosetta mission manager Fred Jansen said that despite these challenges, he was very hopeful of a positive outcome.
“We’ve analyzed the comet, we’ve analyzed the terrain, and we’re confident that the risks we have are still in the area of the 75% success ratio that we always felt,” he told reporters here at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
The prize that awaits a successful landing is immense – the opportunity to sample directly a cosmic wonder.
Comets almost certainly hold vital clues about the original materials that went into building the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.
Mission control will closely monitor the mothership and lander as they move towards separation.
The vast distance between the comet and the Earth – 510 million km – means radio commands take almost half-an-hour to reach the spacecraft.
Nonetheless, the flight team must put Rosetta on a very precise path, to make sure Philae has the best opportunity of arriving squarely in the chosen landing zone.
These navigation instructions were due to be sent up late on Tuesday.
Once the 100kg robot is let go at 08:35, it has no means of adjusting its descent; Philae will go where the comet’s gravity pulls it.
Controllers in Darmstadt will want to hear not only that Philae landed in one piece but that it is securely fastened to the comet.
The nature and strength of the surface materials are unknown, however.
Philae could alight upon terrain whose constitution is anything between rock hard and puff-powder soft.
If it can, the robot will endeavor to lock itself in place with screws in its feet and harpoons that fire from its underside.
ESA has cautioned that success may require a large slice of luck in addition to the skill of all the teams involved.
Rosetta was dispatched from Earth to catch 67P in 2004. That means it and Philae were designed and built in the 1990s.
European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase.
In a first for space history, the spacecraft was maneuvered alongside a speeding body to begin mapping its surface in detail.
The European spacecraft fired its thrusters for six and a half minutes to finally catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
“We’re at the comet!” said Sylvain Lodiot of the ESA operations centre in Germany.
“After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally <<we are here>>,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of ESA.
Rosetta probe has arrived at comet 67P after a 10-year chase (photo ESA)
Launched on board an Ariane rocket in March 2004, Rosetta has taken a long route around our Solar System to catch up with comet 67P.
In a series of fly-pasts, the probe used the gravity of the Earth and Mars to increase its speed during the 6 billion km chase.
To save energy, controllers at ESA’s centre in Darmstadt, Germany, put Rosetta into hibernation for 31 months.
In January they successfully woke the craft from its slumber as it began the final leg of the daring encounter.
For the past two months, Rosetta has been carrying out a series of maneuvers to slow the probe down.
The comet is travelling at 55,000km per hour (34,175 mph). The spacecraft’s speed has been adjusted so that in relative terms it will be flying beside the comet at a slow walking pace of 1m/sec (2.2mph).
At a distance of 550 million km from the Earth, messages are taking over 22 minutes to get to Rosetta.
The distances involved are so great that the complex final command sequence for Wednesday’s crucial thruster burn had to be issued on Monday night.
Rosetta will have to continue to fire its thrusters every few days to maintain a hyperbolic orbit at 100km above the rotating rock.
The craft will then travel alongside the comet for the next 15 months, studying it with a range of instruments.
Rosetta has been taking increasingly detailed photographs of 67P as it gets closer. The mysterious comet has been dubbed the “rubber duck”, as some images seem to show the familiar shape as it twirls in space.