How to orbit a comet

The Rosetta spacecraft is now in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This is my rendition of what the comet would look like in Los Angeles.

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles

What happens after Rosetta arrives at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko?

This animation describes the key dates for the next set of manoeuvres that will bring Rosetta even closer to the comet between August and October.

After arriving on 6 August, Rosetta will follow a set of two, three-legged triangular trajectories that require a small thruster burn at each apex. The legs are about 100 km long and it will take Rosetta between three and four days to complete each one.

The first triangle is conducted at a distance of about 100 km from the comet, the second at around 50 km. Then Rosetta will switch to a ‘global mapping phase’ at an altitude of about 30 km. During this period, it will make a ‘night excursion’, whereby the ground track of the spacecraft will be on the night-side of the comet (with the spacecraft still fully illuminated the Sun).

In October Rosetta will transfer to a close mapping phase to observe the comet from a distance of 10 km. The spacecraft will move even closer to dispatch lander Philae to the surface in November.

In this animation the comet is an artist’s impression and is not to scale with the spacecraft. The comet rotation is not representative (67P rotates once per 12.4 hours). Dates may be subject to change.

Credits: ESA

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