Tag Archives: ESA Comet Mission

ESA DG Rethinking Data Embargos

Apparently ESA is feeling pressure to make a better public spectacle from Rosetta and other space missions.  The conventional policy embargoes the data for six months or more, allowing the scientists who created the data to analyze and publish it before releasing to the general public.

Earlier I posted an explanation of the policy, and also what the scientists will be doing, and why the embargo makes sense.

Naturally, the public and funding agencies would like all the data released immediately.  Poof.  Just like in the movies.  And nowadays, Google et al. would like all the data immediately (for free), so they can exploit it (for profit).

The BBC reports that Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director general, would like to try to release more data sooner.

Based on experience with Rosetta, where the media and the Internet have had to be content with relatively low resolution images, even as the science teams have much, much better imagery in process.

I’m sure that there is room for some changes here.  Usually, there is a LOT of data, and not much reason for PIs to sit on data they aren’t using.  Also, there isn’t any reason why selected “early snapshots” can’t be released to the media, providing that the funders are willing to pay for that activity.  (Science teams are funded to do science, not special effects.)

I’m also sure this will need careful thought, because the proprietary access is one of the prime motivations for science teams to participate in decade long projects.  When you dedicate many years work without results, you hope to get first crack at the big discoveries.  Removing that opportunity may make it difficult to hold together teams for long projects.

Fingers Crossed For Risky Comet Landing

As the Rosetta orbiter collects more data about 67P/CG and prepares for the Philae landing (“Site J” will be given a name next week), I can’t help but worry a bit about the landing.

Every picture we see has higher resolution, and we now see just how rough the surface is.  This week we were treated to some breathtaking and, landingwise scary, imagery.

Four image NAVCAM montage comprising images taken on 20 October 2014. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

I hope and assume that “site J” is a bit less rock strewn, because it’s hard to see how you could safely make an unpowered “crash” landing amid all this rubble.

Fingers crossed.  This is looking pretty risky.

Philae Comet Science

Update (2 October 2014):  Confirmation that the landing will be on 12 November.  See details here.

As Rosetta spacecraft orbits closer and closer to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, this week closing from 30KM to 20KM and then to 10KM circular orbits, attention turns to the upcoming surface landing.

The Philae lander will descend to the surface in a few weeks. This is not at all like “landings” we are used to from Earth, Mars, or the the Moon.  67P is tiny, so there is almost no gravity to pull the lander “down”.  At this time, there is almost no “atmosphere” either, so no braking or fiery excitement.  (As 67P nears the sun, there will be more gas and dust.)

The landing will be unpowered, basically Philae will be dropped onto the surface, in an orbit that will gently intersect the comet.

This is somewhat risky:  the uncertainties of timing this precision “drop” mean the landing will occur in an ellipse of surface about a kilometer long.  There are no landing fields or even 1KM long smooth areas, so Philae could hit a rock or crack or something, which would be very bad.

As in all such projects, there is a carefully designed schedule of observations, filling every minute and trying to get as much as possible early in case of disaster.  This is explained in a nice blog post “Science with the lander – what to expect when Philae meets 67P“.

Data collection during descent.  Quick data grabs as soon as landed. Then detailed studies.  Then whacking the comet with a hammer (really!).  And, if things go well and the batteries can charge fast enough, extended investigation.  Check out their blog.

Rosetta will remain in orbit as 67P approaches the sun, but Philae will shutdown by May 2015 at the latest–conditions will be too “hot” for the instruments.

All very cool.

Philae’s instruments. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab



Preparing to Land on Comet 67P/CG

Rosetta continues imaging comet 67P/CG from about 100KM, and is engaging various instruments.  Most of the data will not be released immediately (a blackout to allow analysis and first publication by the team).

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on 13 August 2014 from a distance of about 115 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM


The team is also reconnoitering for a landing spot for the Philae lander.  “Landing” is actually not so simple, not least because the comet has essentially no gravity–so you will just bounce off each other.

So–Philae is equipped with a “harpoon” to grab on, and ice  screws to fasten down to the surface.  Then we’ll do some science!

Video is from here:  http://sci.esa.int/jump.cfm?oid=54465

In the coming weeks landing sites will be evaluated and possible approaches worked out.

So cool!

Rosetta Maneurvering Up Close

Rosetta is maneuvering and collecting data at comet 67P/CG.  For the first time, we will keep station with a comet.  So cool!

While the science imagers are not releasing data hastily, the navigation camera is giving us gnarly closeups that are plenty good for blogging.

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on 6 August 2014 from a distance of about 96 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM


Lot’s of info at ESA’s web and blogs.

Rosetta Has Arrived

I’ve been following Rosetta as it approaches comet 67PCG this summer, and it is finally “there“.

High resolution close up imagery is being released, and lot’s of data is being collected that will be analyzed and published later this year.

Rosetta will now follow 76P/CG around the Sun, and in a couple of months will drop a lander to sample the surface.

So cool!

Well done all!

Comet on 3 August 2014 – front. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


Landing on 67P/CG Will Be A Bit Tricky

As Rosetta closes with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko it is becoming clear that the comet is not spherical at all.

Use red-green/blue ‘3D’ glasses to enjoy this version of the latest shape model. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

As ESA points out in their blog, orbiting and especially landing is going to have to be done very carefully.  I’m sure their teams are hard at work already, but they’ll have to await the much better data that will be available soon.

Daily Comet Pix From Rosetta

As Rosetta closes on its rendezvous with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko next week images from the navigations camera are being released.  Each day, the image is clearer and more detailed.  (Natural drama here.)

Monday’s images.

Crop from the 27 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. (See http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2014/07/28/cometwatch-25-27-july/)


ESA Rosetta Comet Mission Instrument Testing

Check out the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft. After more than ten years, it is approaching its rendezvous with a comet, where it will fly along as the comet passes close around the sun and, fingers crossed, drop a lander on the surface. Awesome!

The spacecraft is testing and “commissioning” its instruments, including the unprecedented  Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System (MIDAS), which is an atomic force microscope–the first known to fly in space.

The microscope is needed because understanding the comet requires studies of the dust it is made of and surrounded by.  These dust particles are small enough that an instrument as sensitive as an AFM is needed to image them.

Other instruments will count and characterize the dust, and the lander, called Philae, will attempt to land on the surface (which has nearly no gravity), drill into the surface, and analyze the gasses released.

All of this must be robotically controlled, and the data processed and returned from millions of kilometers–many light minutes–far out of range of direct ground control.

Really, really cool.

[Tons of info available at the ESA web site]