On 22 May 2014, seven months after waking it up from a 31-month sleep during its 10-year voyage from Earth, the European Space Agency will insert its Rosetta spacecraft into the orbit of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and begin maneuvers around the ball of ice and snow.
The aim is to record landmarks on the 2.85-mile nucleus of the comet, as well as its rotation speed and spin axis rotation. The data will help in the selection of a landing site for Rosetta's Philae probe. The orbit insertion and landing on a comet, in Nov 2014, represent historic firsts. Thereafter, Rosetta will follow the comet as it moves in towards the Sun, monitoring the changes that take place and relaying data that should help explain how the local space environment has evolved. Comets are believed to contain materials that have remained largely unchanged since the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta was launched as Flight 158 on 2 March 2004 by an Ariane-5G rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.
Date written/update: 2013-11-20