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.
UPDATE 29 SEP: ESA has posted an article describing the science observations that will be performed during the final descent.
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.
To watch: There will be a short transmission streamed via rosetta.esa.int, https://livestream.com/ESA/rosettagrandfinale and ESA's Facebook page, and the expected landing time will be posted at the top of this page and via the Rosetta blog and via Twitter through the spacecraft’s account @ESA_Rosetta and @esaoperations. Again, I don't think this will be an event open to the media at ESOC, so I'll be following the same as you.
September 30: End of mission
03:00 PDT / 06:30 EDT / 10:30 UTC / 12:30 CEST (subject to change depending on confirmed impact time)
To watch: The event will be live streamed via rosetta.esa.int, https://livestream.com/ESA/rosettagrandfinale and ESA's Facebook page featuring status updates from mission controllers live from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. And, of course, follow me on Twitter and at this blog for my impressions of the final moments of this great mission.
Just for fun, here is a roundup of all the cute Rosetta cartoons posted throughout the mission.
Once upon a time....
- Once Upon a Time... (20 Dec 2013)
- Are We There Yet? (9 Jul 2014)
- Once Upon a Time... (21 Jul 2014)
- Fabulous Fables and Tales of Tails (31 July 2014)
- Preparing for Comet Landing (5 Nov 2014)
- Comet Landing (9 Mar 2015)
- Living with a Comet (9 Nov 2015)
- Rosetta's Second Year at the Comet (1 July 2016)
- Rosetta's Grand Finale (27 Sep 2016)
- To be continued...