If you thought getting up on time on a Monday morning was tough work, then a small spaceship 807 million kilometres from Earth is about to blow your mind. It’s being called ‘the most important alarm clock in the solar system’ by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the team of scientist waits patiently for the Rosetta spacecraft to wake up from a 31 month long sleep to call home.
Rosetta set out on its journey from Earth in 2004 to rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko where it will hopefully be the first space craft to orbit a comet and the the first to land a probe on a comet’s nucleus. The space craft is entirely solar powered which is what necessitated its induced slumber in 2011 to save power as it flew further away from the sun’s energy. Now that it’s a mere 673 million kilometres away from the Sun it will begin the six hour process to restart its startrackers at 10:00 GMT (12 o’clock midday SA time). Because of the tremendous distance the message announcing that Rosetta is awake takes around 45 minutes to reach Earth, with the first opportunity to ‘hear’ it coming between 17:30 GMT and 18:30 GMT when.
The Rosetta sace craft is expected to make contact with the comet in August this year and then follow it for the next 12 months as it makes its way closer towards the Sun. It sounds incredibly simple until you realise that the comet is travelling at almost 40 000km/h making this one of the most complicated mission ever attempted in space. To get up to speed Rosetta has already made three flybys of Earth and one of Mars using them as slingshots to accelerate it.
The ESA hopes that Rosetta will be able to answer questions about the origin and evolution of our solar system by investigating theories about how comets may have played a direct role in introducing water and perhaps even life onto Earth.
Needless to say that there will be a rather nervous team on hand at ESOC, the ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany where nearly a decasde of work hinges on one alarm clock.
My wake-up time has been set to 2014.020:10:00:00 UTC (20 January 2014 at 10:00 UTC)
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) June 28, 2013