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After clocking up more than six billion kilometres over a 10 year flight, Europe’s Rosetta deep space probe has hit its target, flying within 100 kilometres of comet comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
For the first time mankind will have put an object into orbit around a comet. The plan is to hopefully reveal some secrets about the way the solar system has evolved since its birth.
For a total cost of 1.3 billion euros, mostly from the European Space Agency (ESA), Rosetta is expected to operate until at least the end of next year, gathering data from the the comet’s brush with the sun in August 2015.
‘‘This is a fantastic mission, the first in history, trying to rendezvous with a comet, trying to land on it. It’s a very long trip because we have to reach the orbital velocity of the comet,” said Dr. Paulo Ferri, the head of ESA’s Mission Operations Department.
Pictures already sent from Rosetta’s on-board camera have revealed the comet’s unusual double core. It gives the astral body a curious shape, rather like a bath duck.
In October Rosetta is due to enter into a 30 kilometre high orbit.
Depending on how active the comet is in November Rosetta will drop to an altitude of 10 kilometres, and then even lower to between 2,000 and 3,000 metres to release the Philae robot laboratory. This will land on the surface to examine the comet’s composition, another first for mankind, and one requiring great accuracy.