UK & World News

  • 20 January 2014, 10:04

Rosetta Comet-Chasing Spacecraft To Be Awoken

Scientists will today attempt to wake up a comet-chasing spacecraft that's been in deep space hibernation.

The Rosetta probe has been on a 10-year journey to catch up with the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.

It was shut down two-and-a-half years ago to save energy on its epic 600-million-mile voyage.

:: Watch live coverage of the Rosetta wake-up call

If systems reboot correctly at 10am GMT, mission control at the European Space Agency will correct its trajectory to home in on the comet, which is travelling at more than 60,000mph.

Previous missions have smashed into comets, briefly analysing the icy rocks.

But Rosetta will fly alongside, mapping and analysing the surface, before deploying a lander for closer inspection.

Paolo Ferri, head of mission control operations, said: "We went around the Sun five times and we came very close to planets to use their gravity to accelerate.

"This is the first spacecraft that flies beyond the orbit of Mars with solar panels."

The 2.5-mile-wide comet has almost no gravity, so the probe will have to use harpoons and ice anchors to clamp on to the surface.

It will study the plume of gas and water vapour that will boil off and trail behind as Churyumov-Gerasimenko nears the Sun.

It will also analyse the chemical signature of hydrogen on the comet. If it matches that found in water on Earth it will strongly suggest that comets smashing into the planet billions of years ago filled the oceans.

And they may also have brought some of the ingredients for life.

British scientists are involved in 10 of the 21 experiments on board. Engineers at Astrium UK helped to design and built the spacecraft.

Ralph Cordey, head of science at the company, said the mission was hugely ambitious.

"It's interesting enough ... to actually design, build and launch a spacecraft, but to then see it travel around the solar system for 10 years to get to where it is now is just something else," he said.

:: Watch the latest updates live on Sky News on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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