The Rosetta spacecraft has been woken up from a three year hibernation. The spacecraft was originally launched in 2004 and had travelled around the sun five times.
It had then been ‘asleep’ in order to save power. Rosetta will now be used to get alongside comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The hope is the spacecraft will be able to drop a space lander on the comet’s surface before the end of the year.
Euronews spoke to the presenter of its Space programme, Jeremy Wilks, at the European Space Agency’s operation centre in Darmstadt, about the significance of what Rosetta is doing.
euronews: Let’s go now to the European Space Agency’s operation centre in Darmstadt and join Jeremy Wilks, presenter of euronews’ Space programme. Jeremy it is a mission of ‘firsts’ carried out at what are mind boggling distances, 800 million kilometres away from earth. How significant could the findings prove to be?
Jeremy Wilks: Well it has the potential to be a real game-changing mission because this is the first time, and you have to really understand this, the first time, that somebody has caught up with a comet with their satellite, then flown alongside for over a year, they hope, and then put a lander right down onto its surface. We’ve been past comets in the past, we’ve had a look at them, we’ve taken photos of them but we’ve never been down onto the surface, really examined the materials that are there, and then tried to evaluate what the comet is made from. The reason that’s important is that comets could contain the water that was brought to earth a long time ago, for example. The water that we have here could have come from comets, also some of the fundamental building blocks of life could have come from comets as well. So if the scientists find them and confirm them, and that’s going to be happening in the next few years, it’s going to be very significant indeed.
euronews: We’re always talking about crossing frontiers in space exploration, this is what Rosetta is going to do?
Jeremy Wilks: Well Rosetta is at a kind of frontier at the moment. Because it’s so far away from earth it’s really at the limit of where they can start to get power on those huge solar panels it’s got, so 11 o’clock this morning it started to have its wake up routine and then this afternoon it will finally send its first signal. When it comes to scientific frontiers, when Rosetta catches up with that comet that, as I said, really is the edge of our understanding. We’ve never been that close to a comet before and so when it manages to do that, in about August this year, it will be truly groundbreaking science.