Rosetta spacecraft completes historic 12-year-long odyssey

After travelling 6 billion kilometres across space over 12 years, Rosetta ends historic mission by crash-landing into the comet it orbited for two years.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Rosetta, the European Space Agency's cometary probe, collected data which astronomy experts said were as powerful as Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

Rosetta spacecraft completed its 12-year-long mission on Friday after it crash-landed into the comet it orbited and probed for two years to provide insight into the solar system’s origins.

The spacecraft stalked comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko across more than 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles) of space, providing a massive trove of information on comets that will keep scientists busy for the next decade.

End of the mission came at 11:19 GMT with scientists at European Space Agency (ESA) control centre in Darmstadt, Germany clapping and hugging. Rosetta completed its free-fall descent and joined its space lander probe Philae, which landed on the comet in November 2014 in what is seen as a remarkable feat of precision space travel.

Historic firsts

"It was a good ending," Klaus Schiling, who worked on mission planning for Rosetta 27 years ago with prime contractor Airbus, told Reuters at the Mexico space conference. "There were so many ups and downs with this mission."

The mission recorded several historic firsts, such as being the first spacecraft to orbit around a comet and the near impossible landing of a probe on the surface.

But, its space lander Philae, the 100 kilogramme (220 lb) probe, bounced several times on landing before getting stuck against a cliff wall of comet 67P. It was only able to send back information for three days until its solar-powered batteries ran out.

Out of range

The ESA decided to end the mission because the comet in question is racing towards the outer solar system, out of range for the solar-powered spacecraft.

Since its launch in May 2004, Rosetta has been subjected to harsh radiation and the extreme temperatures of space and so was unlikely to last much longer.

Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said the data sent back from the Rosetta mission were "as powerful as Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon."

Data collected by Rosetta and Philae are already having a profound impact on helping scientists better understand how the earth and other planets were formed.

"We've just scratched the surface of the science. We're ending the mission, but the science will continue for many years," project scientist Matt Taylor said ahead of the end of mission.

Reuters, TRTWorld and agencies