The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected the landing site for its historic Rosetta mission. The landing is scheduled to take place on November 11 at Site J. This region is located on the ‘head’ of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and was the best landing site for the Philae lander probe.
Should something happen to Site J, Site C was picked as a backup landing site.
“As we have seen from recent close-up images, the comet is a beautiful but dramatic world – it is scientifically exciting, but its shape makes it operationally challenging,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center.
“None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100% level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”
What factors played a role in selecting a landing site for the Philae lander? Obvious ones include visible hazards such as boulders and craters. Others include the day/night cycle since the lander needs sunlight to recharge its batteries.
Out of all the sites, Site J was the best.
“At Site J, the majority of slopes are less than 30º relative to the local vertical, reducing the chances of Philae toppling over during touchdown. Site J also appears to have relatively few boulders, and receives sufficient daily illumination to recharge Philae and continue science operations on the surface beyond the initial battery-powered phase,” according to a statement from the ESA.
Site C was selected as backup because it appeared to have fewer boulders and more sunlight.
ESA officials don’t have much wiggle room with the November 11 date. The landing needs to happen before mid-November because the comet is expected to become more active as it continues towards the Sun.
There’s no time to lose, but now that we’re closer to the comet, continued science and mapping operations will help us improve the analysis of the primary and backup landing sites,” says ESA Rosetta flight director Andrea Accomazzo in a statement.
“Of course, we cannot predict the activity of the comet between now and landing, and on landing day itself. A sudden increase in activity could affect the position of Rosetta in its orbit at the moment of deployment and in turn the exact location where Philae will land, and that’s what makes this a risky operation.”
The next two dates to keep an eye on are September 26, when the landing date will be confirmed, and on October 14, when the final Go/No Go for landing will be reviewed. We’ll keep you posted as the Rosetta mission inches closer to making potential history.
Image credit: ESA