The end is near for Rosetta. As I explained earlier this month, ESA plans to set Rosetta down on the surface of the comet on September 30, with its final signals reaching Earth at 04:20 PDT / 07:20 EDT / 11:20 UTC / 13:20 CEST, give or take 20 minutes. Upon impact, the spacecraft will automatically "passivate," cutting the radio connection to Earth and ending the mission forever. (Why does the mission have to end? Read ESA's FAQ.) I'll be flying to the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany later today to be onsite for the mission's final hours, and will be Tweeting up a storm. Here is a schedule of what to expect (courtesy of ESA), and how you can follow online.
Artist's impression of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 30 September 2016.
September 29: Science Highlights Livestream (3 hours) 05:30 PDT / 08:30 EDT / 12:30 UTC / 14:30 CEST
A program featuring members of many of the Rosetta science teams discussing the scientific accomplishments of the mission so far. I look forward to hearing both about what Rosetta has accomplished and what work there is yet to do on the mountains of data returned by the spacecraft.
September 29: Rosetta's final maneuver 13:50 PDT / 16:50 EDT / 20:50 UTC / 22:50 CEST
From an orbital altitude of 19 kilometers, Rosetta will fire its engines to cancel out its motion and begin a slow free-fall toward the comet's surface.
To watch: Check for updates at the Rosetta blog and via Twitter through the spacecraft’s account @ESA_Rosetta and @esaoperations. (I'll be doing the same, as there will not be an event at ESOC for this moment.)
September 30: Rosetta's descent images
"Early morning of 30 September" (so, late night 29 Sep EDT/PDT, early morning 30 Sep UTC/CEST) and onwards
During its final descent, Rosetta must return all data in real time. ESA will share some of these final images via ESA’s Space in Images and on Twitter via @ESA_Rosetta. Jet lag permitting, I'll be Tweeting and discussing the photos.
September 30: Rosetta's final commands
01:00 PDT / 04:00 EDT / 08:00 UTC / 10:00 CEST
Overnight, navigators will have worked with Navcam images taken shortly after Rosetta's final maneuver to determine the spacecraft's precise trajectory. They'll use this information to update the commands for pointing the spacecraft during the final hours of its descent, and to determine Rosetta's precise impact time to within 2 minutes.