'Rock-n-roll Rosetta', as crash-landing ends historic comet mission

2016-09-30 15:16
A handout picture shows the static received by the ground station a moment after Rosetta's radio signal disappeared.  (ESA , AFP)

A handout picture shows the static received by the ground station a moment after Rosetta's radio signal disappeared. (ESA , AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Darmstadt - Europe's pioneering Rosetta spacecraft concluded a 12-year odyssey with a controlled crash-landing on Friday onto the comet it has orbited and probed for two years to unravel the secrets of the Solar System's birth, mission controllers said.

"I can confirm the full success of the descent of Rosetta," Mission Manager Patrick Martin announced to wild cheering in the control centre, based in Darmstadt near Frankfurt in Western Germany.

"Rock-n-roll Rosetta," added a visibly moved Matt Taylor, the mission's project scientist, as he stepped from the podium, holding - and shaking - his head.

In the hours before the crash-landing, Rosetta gathered crucial last-gasp data from nearer the galactic wanderer than ever before, its instruments primed to sniff the comet's gassy halo, measure temperature and gravity, and take close-up pictures of the spot that is now its icy tomb.

The craft had been programmed for a "controlled impact", at a human walking pace of about 90cm per second, after a 14-hour freefall from an altitude of 19km.

Confirmation of the mission's end came at 11:19 GMT, when the spacecraft's signal - with a 40-minute delay - faded from ground controllers' computer screens.

The trailblazing craft's final manoeuvre was executed at a distance of 720 million kilometres from Earth, with the comet zipping through space at a speed of over 14km/second.

Mission scientists expected it would bounce and tumble about before settling - but Rosetta's exact fate will never be known as it was instructed to switch off on first impact.

The comet chaser was never designed to land.

The first-ever mission to orbit and land on a comet was approved in 1993 to explore the birth of our Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.

Rosetta and lander probe Philae travelled more than six billion kilometres over 10 years to reach 67P in August 2014.

Philae was released onto the comet surface in November of that year, bouncing several times, then gathering 60 hours of on-site data which it sent home before entering standby mode.

Having made the closest approach on its 6.6-year loop around the Sun in August last year, the comet is now moving further and further away from our planetary system's central star, which means Rosetta's solar panels are catching fewer battery-replenishing rays.

Rather than just letting it fade away, scientists opted to end the mission on a high by taking measurements from up close - too close to risk under usual operating conditions.


On Thursday night, Rosetta was commanded to exit comet orbit and join long-spent Philae on 67P for a never-ending journey around the Sun.

Flight operations director Andrea Accomazzo, working on Rosetta for nearly 20 years, confessed "of course there is a bit of sadness" after a "long, long" professional investment.

"You are going to miss it. But OK, life goes on," he shrugged.

For the scientists who will sift through the data for years, possibly decades, to come, this is not the end, however.

"It's a bittersweet thing," project scientist Matt Taylor told AFP. "There is something about the attachment, there's something about that spacecraft being there. I will feel a sense of loss, surely."

Comets like 67P are thought to contain primordial material preserved in a dark space deep freeze.

Insights gleaned from the €1.4bn project have shown that comets crashing into an early Earth may well have brought amino acids, the building blocks of life.

Comets of 67P's type, however, certainly did not bring water, scientists have concluded.

Another highlight of Rosetta's descent was a one-off chance to peer into mysterious pits dotting the landscape for hints as to what the comet's interior might look like.

"Scientists are like children: they dream without limits. There is nothing better than making dreams of children become a reality," Accomazzo told AFP.

"This is the feeling we have. For me today is mission accomplished."

Read more on:    germany  |  space exploration

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.