The European Space Agency has announced that, come September 30, its Rosetta spacecraft will (most probably) be no more.
After being launched on March 2, 2004, Rosetta has spent the past 12 years sending extraordinary photographs of our galaxy back to Earth. Currently, it’s in orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, not too far from the orbit of Jupiter — although likely not for too much longer.
The reason for Rosetta’s retirement is that reduced solar power required for it to keep operating itself and its instruments, combined with a reduction in bandwidth for downlinking scientific data, means it’s running out of uses. As it moves further and further from the sun, it also won’t have enough power for Rosetta’s heaters to keep it warm enough to continue functioning.
Rosetta does, however, have one final mission planned: getting up close and personal with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where its fellow lander Philae arrived almost two years ago. The plan is to land Rosetta on the comet’s icy surface, although its creators acknowledge it is unlikely to manage the trip. Instead, it will spend its last few hours taking valuable measurements and recording ultrahigh resolution images during the descent, which will help grow our understanding of asteroids and their role in the universe.
“We’re trying to squeeze as many observations in as possible before we run out of solar power,” Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist, has noted. “[September 30[will mark the end of spacecraft operations, but the beginning of the phase where the full focus of the teams will be on science. That is what the Rosetta mission was launched for and we have years of work ahead of us, thoroughly analyzing its data.”
Hey, after managing a 5 billion-mile journey through space, doesn’t Rosetta deserve a bit of a rest? We certainly think so.