Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft was heading for a mission-ending crash into the comet it has stalked for two years yesterday – a dramatic conclusion to a 12-year odyssey to demystify our solar system’s origins.
Sent by ground controllers on a leisurely, 14-hour freefall, the space pioneer was engaged in a last-gasp spurt of science-gathering on the 19km journey to its icy comet tomb.
The moment of impact will be 10.38am GMT, give or take two minutes, the European Space Agency said after overnight measurements allowed it to narrow down the expected time of death. Confirmation will arrive 40 minutes later, the time it takes for a message to travel between Rosetta and Earth, when the spacecraft’s signal fades from ground controllers’ computer screens.
“Everything is going according to plan,” project scientist Matt Taylor said hours before the impending end. The craft has been sending back close-up shots of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and “we’re seeing some really nice images,” he said. “We just wait for the end now.”