ESA visualizes Rosetta's tangled orbital history in new video
ESA has released a video detailing the intricate orbit traveled by Rosetta over the past two years as the probe explored the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The visualization was constructed from genuine Rosetta telemetry, though the spin of the comet itself is not accurately mapped.
The visualization displays a highly choreographed dance comprised of carefully calculated mapping/science orbits, and one-off maneuvers designed to fulfill specific mission goals. The animation begins on July 31, 2014, with Rosetta making its final approach to 67P prior to orbital insertion. The probe is then seen to make a series of sharp maneuvers as it characterized the irregular shape of the comet, and transitioned into a closer orbit.
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The animation goes on to highlight the delicate maneuvers executed by Rosetta's mission team to bring the probe into position for the Nov. 12 deployment of the Philae lander. Unfortunately, after bidding farewell to Rosetta, Philae experienced somewhat of a traumatic landing, which saw the intrepid explorer come to rest in a location that limited the amount of nourishing sunlight falling upon its solar panels.
After completing a number of its key scientific goals, the lander, unable to recharge its batteries, fell into a state of deep hibernation. February and March of 2015 saw Rosetta undertake a series of flybys. During one of these encounters, dust originating from the comet impaired Rosetta's navigational systems, forcing the probe to enter a "safe mode" that, as a precaution, took it to a more distant orbit relative to 67P as the issue was addressed.
Over the course of the next two months Rosetta undertook a series of zigzag-like maneuvers designed to maximize its chances of re-establishing stable contact with Philae, which had briefly re-established communications with the orbiter in June. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to be in vain.
In August 2015, as 67P made its closest approach to the Sun, known as perihelion, the probe adopted a more distant orbit, flying beyond 100 km (62 miles) to protect itself from a significant increase in comet activity known as outgassing brought on by the intense heat of our star.
In the months following perihelion the worst of the outgassing subsided, allowing Rosetta to safely close in on the comet to continue its science operations, and perform further flybys of 67P.
The animation ends on Aug. 9, 2016, with Rosetta in a relatively close-proximity elliptical orbit to 67P. It is expected that Rosetta will end its mission by colliding with the comet at 50 cm per second, only half the speed at which Philae descended, on Sept. 30, 2016.
Scroll down to view ESA's visualization of Rosetta's orbital history to date.