Last month, ESA designated the spot where Rosetta’s Philae lander will touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12 as "Site J." However, the space agency didn't think that was zippy enough, so it's now known as "Agilkia," after an island on the Nile.
Naming a spacecraft after a spit of sand in a river may seem odd, but there's a logic to the choice. The unmanned Rosetta comet orbiter is named after the famous Rosetta Stone that was found near the town of Rosetta (Rashid) in Egypt and gave Jean-François Champollion the clues that allowed him to decipher the long-dead Egyptian language.
The Philae lander is named after the Philae temple complex located on the Nile, which had to be moved in the 1960s when the construction of the Aswan Dam threatened to leave the it at the bottom of the man-made Lake Nasser. In one of the greatest archaeological rescue missions ever attempted, the Philae complex was relocated to another island: Agilkia.
The name was chosen through a public competition that ran from October 16 to 19, with 8,000 entries from 135 countries submitted with the selection made by a jury from the Philae Lander Steering Committee. The winning entry was submitted by Alexandre Brouste from France, who will be invited to ESA’s Space Operations Control Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to witness the Philae landing.
"The decision was very tough," says Prof. Felix Huber of the DLR German Aerospace Center, chair of the Steering Committee. "We received so many good suggestions on how to name Site J, and we were delighted with such an enthusiastic response from all over the world. We wish to thank all participants for sharing their great ideas with us."
Launched in 2004, Rosetta reached 67P/C-G by a circuitous route involving three flybys of Earth, one of Mars, and a long detour out beyond Jupiter as it built up enough speed to catch up to the comet. During this time, it passed close to the asteroids Šteins and Lutetia, and went into a 31-month hibernation to conserve resources until the comet rendezvous. Since its arrival on August 6, the unmanned probe has gone into orbit around the comet and is currently preparing for an historic first landing on its nucleus by the Philae lander.