The European Space Agency has confirmed both the time and location for an attempted landing of the Rosetta probe on a comet – the first time a spacecraft will ever complete this feat.
The agency said Wednesday its unmanned probe Rosetta will release the 100-kilogram lander at 0835 GMT (3:35 ET) on November 12.
The goal is to drop its lander Philae at a location named ‘Site J’ on the 4-kilometer wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The process will take about seven hours to complete. Due to radio signals taking 28 minutes to travel hundreds of millions of miles back to Earth, confirmation of a successful landing won’t be heard until about 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST).
Final confirmation of the touchdown sequence and location was given by the Lander Operations Readiness Review, which met at the European Space Agency’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany on Tuesday.
“Now that we know where we are definitely aiming for, we are an important step closer to carrying out this exciting – but high-risk – operation,” said Fred Jansen, Esa’s Rosetta mission manager, in a statement.
“However, there are still a number of key milestones to complete before we can give the final ‘go’ for landing.”
Scientists have hopes the mission will help them learn more about the origins and evolution of objects in the universe.
Rosetta is currently maneuvering itself into a circular 10km-high orbit around the comet as it prepares for its landing next month. This will permit even more detailed images of the landing zone to be acquired. These images will be able to pick out features that are as small as 19cm across.
On October 28, Rosetta will be command to start “phasing” its orbit in preparation for landing. This involves raising its altitude to 30km.
On the day of the landing, the spacecraft will essentially dive-bomb the comet, to ensure Philae is put on exactly the right path to contact the middle of Site J.