Ever since the historic achievement of August 6, when Rosetta became the first unmanned spacecraft to achieve a stable orbit around a comet, mission operators have been readying themselves for the inevitable nail-biting landing attempt. Six weeks after arrival at the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P), Rosetta's handlers have tentatively announced November 12 as the date for the historic touchdown.
Earlier this month, mission operators selected the primary and backup landing sites for the Philae lander. Out of an original 10 potential landing areas, Site J had the honor of being selected as the first choice for the landing. The site afforded the best balance between limiting the risks to the lander during descent and maximizing the scientific output of the mission upon a successful landing.
Should heightened outgassing activity in the vicinity of Site J make the primary landing site undesirable, the robotic explorer has the option of falling back on its secondary landing area, site C. This landing zone, located on the larger section of the comet, was selected for its superior illumination and lack of surface protrusions.
In all, the descent is scheduled to take roughly seven hours from release to touchdown. Assuming that the primary site is a go, separation of the Philae lander from Rosetta is planned to take place at 08:35GMT/09:35CET from an altitude of 14 miles (22.5 km). If all goes well, Philae should touch down on the surface of 67P at the leisurely pace of one meter per second (3.3 ft/s), with confirmation of a successful landing being received by ground stations at roughly 16:00 GMT/14:04 ET.
Should complications arise, necessitating a landing at the back-up site, separation would take place at the later time of 13:04 GMT/17:00 CET, with verification of a safe landing taking place around 17:30 GMT/18:30 CET.
Confirmation of the landing date is expected to take place on Oct. 14. Over the course of the same week, the ESA is expected to announce a public competition in the hopes of finding a more inspiring designation for site J.
The video below, courtesy of the ESA, displays the deployment procedure to be carried out by the Philae lander upon touching down on 67P.
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