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The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was launched back in 2004. Its goal: to intercept, orbit, and land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It has been a long, cold, dark, lonely 10 years for plucky little Rosetta (including 3 years in system hibernation, from which it only recently re-awakened as mission controllers held their breath), but now the lovers are dancing together in orbit around each other like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Next, the obviously treacherous surface of the comet will be carefully mapped by Rosetta, in preparation for a November attempt to lower a lander to its surface for some real face-time together.

If Rosetta isn't the coolest thing ever, I'm darned if I know what is. Way to go, ESA! You go, Rosey!

Originally posted to DocDawg on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 09:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The lander is equipped with harpoons (19+ / 0-)

    They don't know if the lander will just skip off the surface when it lands, so they will fire harpoons into the solid part of the comet to try to stick.

    Humans!  Gotta love 'em!

    Someone once asked me why do you always insist on taking the hard road? and I replied why do you assume I see two roads?

    by funluvn1 on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 09:14:47 AM PDT

  •  Landing on a comet. My gosh. (11+ / 0-)

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 09:22:56 AM PDT

  •  Well, it could be cooler, (6+ / 0-)

    It could have Bruce Willis aboard.
    Or a bomb.
    I know! Let's detonate a bomb on one side of it, just enough to steer it into a collision course with Mars. I wanna see the hit!

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 09:36:02 AM PDT

  •  Investigating Earth (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rashaverak, catwho, ichibon, rduran

    One of the most important experiments on the lander is to do a full analysis of the water (I think the instrument is PTOLEMY)

    The intention is to compare with water on Earth to try to resolve the question of whether this emerged from under the surface when the planet had cooled enough or if it came from comet bombardment. If the latter, it could also indicate that life on Earth is a result of the amino acids etc also in comets. In turn, that would support the theory of panspermia and give greater impetus to finding life within out own star's system.

    "Come to Sochi, visit the gay clubs and play with the bears" - NOT a Russian advertising slogan.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 10:25:27 AM PDT

    •  Is the plan (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rashaverak, JML9999, rduran

      to analyze the deuterium/hydrogen ratio? Maybe this is a self-answering question. Hasn't this already been done spectroscopically for other comets? (Honest question, not rhetorical...waaaay out of my branch of science here).

      Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

      by DocDawg on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 10:32:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A ten-year complex maneuver! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Amazing engineering feat! Could they fix my toaster next?

    Shall we go? Yes, let's go.

    by whenwego on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 11:16:29 AM PDT

    •  in space, the long slow route takes less fuel (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whenwego, Gwennedd, rduran

      In space everything is moving, so you need to point the probe at where the comet will be 10 years down the road when the slower-than-molasses-on-a-cold-day probe gets there.  But when you have the luxury of taking lots of time to get from point A to point B, it's usually requires far less fuel to take that time and put your probe on an indirect course that means it'll run into the destination rather than catch up with it.  Especially if you can change orbits gradually rather than with a few big rocket burns.  The more fuel you need, the less mission you can have ... or the more money you have to spend.

      Comets are extra difficult.  Their orbits are highly elliptical, which means they have a much higher relative motion compared to planets or asteroids, and then they swing far out beyond Pluto and are unreachable for centuries or more.  Additionally, they are often tilted relative to the rest of the solar system, which is probably the most "expensive" maneuver there is.

      Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

      by Visceral on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 02:22:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  remember when WE used to be able to do projects (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    like this?

    Now we have to pay the Russians to take us into space.

    How the once-mighty have fallen. . . . .

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 04:57:39 PM PDT

    •  I find it interesting that Vlad the Impaler (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lenny Flank, rduran

      hasn't told us to go take a hike yet. I guess he still has boat payments to make.

      Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

      by DocDawg on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 05:47:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Once the excitement's gone, all you have left (0+ / 0-)

      are the memories of gigantic candlesticks and some guys doing what the guy that one time did a half dozen more times before the money runs out.

      Then you build a shuttle to get to space station built so that the shuttle has somewhere to go.

      I like projects as much as the next guy, but I was promised a helluva lot more than this.

  •  Be nice if we had the infrastructure (0+ / 0-)

    in place to launch missions and reach intercepts like this one in a matter of months rather than a whole decade.

    •  Well, the good news is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gwennedd, rduran

      you could get there a whole lot faster if all you wanted to do was smash into it near the earth...all you'd have to do is just get in its way as it's incoming. Unfortunately, that's not a real useful scenario (for example, for destroying an impactor with a nuclear weapon); it would make one heck of a mess. The challenge that landing on it poses is that the comet is inbound at an incredibly high velocity (relative to the earth) -- right now about 34,000 MPH. That's 12 times the velocity of a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle, or Mach 44. To land on it, you have to be going at the same velocity, in the same orbit around the sun, heading in the same direction. As Visceral's post (above) suggests, it takes a completely unfeasible amount of fuel to accelerate a vehicle to that kind of speed in that highly eccentric orbit by rocket burns alone. So instead you play crack-the-whip, getting 'free' speed boosts by swinging close by several planets, as this animation illustrates for Rosetta. Every time you do that you're stealing some of the planet's kinetic energy, rather than generating kinetic energy by burning fuel. The only problem is that there are a limited number of solutions, using this strategy, that get you where you want to go (because the planets are where they are, not where they'd be most convenient for you); you have to spend a lot of time waiting for them to swing around into the right positions. And for an orbital dynamics problem like that Rosetta faced, that means years of waiting.

      Impressive as they are, rockets are nonetheless a sadly crude and inefficient way to get around the universe. Beam me up, Scotty.

      Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

      by DocDawg on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 10:18:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's not so much rockets are bad (0+ / 0-)

        it's launching rockets from Earth's surface in narrow windows with just as much propellant as necessary to do the mission that really blows.

        •  True that, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          but since all rockets (or the materials to build them and to fuel them) right now necessarily start at the bottom of this deep gravitational well we call the earth (and the even deeper gravitational well we call the solar system), it amounts to the same thing. It's true that NASA, and Musk, and others all have schemes to make rocket fuel (hydrogen and oxygen) on Mars' or the Moon's surfaces using sunlight for power, and that various moons (such as Saturn's Titan) are basically seas of liquid hydrocarbons just waiting to be drill-baby-drilled, but these are not general solutions to the larger problem of climbing out of the solar system into the universe (or even for just getting around the solar system with heavy cargos on a regular basis). A general solution would require other much more efficient (and nonexistent) means of propulsion...which is precisely why there are no little green men knocking on our doors today (well, that plus the whole speed-limit-of-light problem).

          The universe could be crawling with intelligent life for all we know (though I personally doubt it...'intelligent' life kills itself off too quickly). But, barring some radical new physics, plus radical new engineering enabling us to take advantage of it, we'll never shake appendages with any of 'em. We're all alone out here on this lonely planet, and probably always will be. Which is a good reason to take full responsibility for taking care of it.

          Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

          by DocDawg on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 06:53:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not quite (0+ / 0-)

            Payloads aren't created equal.  Even for a given mass, payload cost, refinement, value delivered over lifecycle, utility, destination and flight rate matter.  Right now, all of our payloads are expensive, end manufacture one-shots.  To maximize efficiency for totally Earth-sourced missions, you would instead ship bulk material on high frequency flights that reduce the cost of launch to something approaching the cost of lift propellant.  You'd manufacture your departure and mission vehicles and equipment on-orbit; fuel them on-orbit, and send them on their way with engines optimized for transfer in the vacuum.

            That said, you really get a quantum leap when you start using extraterrestrial resources to get the job done.  Which is why it's so dumb that we haven't gone back to the Moon to stay.

            •  It takes a kilogram of fuel (0+ / 0-)

              to deliver one gram of unburned fuel (or one gram of other raw materials) into low earth orbit. Manufacturing and fueling on-orbit doesn't get around the fundamental problem that everything we'd need 'up there' is currently 'down here' at the bottom of a deep, deep gravitational well. Sure, there's room for efficiency improvements in the way we design missions and build spacecraft. But that's just fiddling around the edges of a huge problem.

              Solar sails might help some, but their 'zero-to-sixty' times are not impressive, and they're not a general solution to outside-the-solar-system missions.

              In business (specifically, product development) there's an old saying: "Cheap, fast, or good: choose any two." For space travel the corollary would be: "Cheap or fast: choose one." Unfortunately, neither one without the other really gets you there.

              Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

              by DocDawg on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 07:17:29 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  No, it doesn't (0+ / 0-)

                But it does bring down the minimum gauge costs beyond propellant expenditure.  After all, that kilogram of fuel is less than $100/kg of the overall launch cost per unit mass which is just now only approaching around $5,000/kg.

              •  Nuclear electric and thermal propulsion (0+ / 0-)

                For ranging the solar system with manned spacecraft.  Hyrdolox for short-sphere hops.  Solar electric for cheap, bulk, unmanned transfer.  

                But we gotta tool up first.

                •  Nuclear faces several problems (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  First is the fact that a whole lot of people, quite understandably, aren't exactly crazy about us throwing highly radioactive materials up in the air and hoping they don't fall back down on us (because sh*t happens). Yes, we do it today, but only on an insignificant scale. The scale you're talking about would have two thirds of DKos readers grabbing pitchforks and taking to the streets after the first accident (or maybe even before).

                  Solar electric is great, but of course only in the inner solar system. Plus, you still have to turn that solar energy into propulsive force, which requires matter...lots of matter...matter that is currently at the bottom of our gravitational well.

                  Hydrolox, too, is currently down here, but needed up there. As discussed above, yes you could in principle manufacture it on the surface of the moon or Mars, but (1) the substantial amounts of matter and fuel required to build the infrastructure up there to do that is currently down here at the bottom of the well, and (2) you'd have to commit yourself to strip-mining the moon and Mars into ugly we have the moral right?

                  Actually, you and I don't really disagree all that much, I think. We're just talking about two different scales of activity. What we're doing today, or could reasonably do tomorrow with the solutions you propose, works brilliantly for slow, tiny, robotic exploration of the solar system, and we should definitely be doing more of it. But, for the scale of things required to really expand human civilization off the earth/moon system...a gargantuan effort...there are no adequate propulsion systems available, except in science fiction...which more often than not isn't science, and always is fiction. I'll be the happiest guy in town if that someday proves otherwise. But today we can't even (agree to) afford to adequately feed, clothe, house, educate, and provide medical care for ourselves, and saving the planet from climate change is viewed by too many as 'too expensive.' Re-directing our entire gross planetary income to getting off the planet just isn't in the cards.

                  It's an inviolable law of physics: gravity sucks.

                  Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

                  by DocDawg on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 07:43:37 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Sure, a lot of people (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Lenny Flank

                    but with rocketry finally getting affordable enough for the rest of the world to play, it's only a matter of time before we have nuclear reactors in space.  Anti-nuke Kossacks will protest for sure, but there won't be much of anything they can do about it.

                    I don't think the effort needs to be all that gargantuan, especially compared to the amount of waste going into our launch habits today or--God forbid--our sorry excuse for manned space exploration.  At the high end, you have a proposal to kick start cislunar water cracking at the cost of what it took to build ISS.  And this one makes some very conservative assumptions about vehicles (assumes SLS will do lift work) and cislunar transport architectures.

                    The hydrolox taxi service to the Moon and libration is the cheapest leg of the settlement strategy, and something that could be well under way in a decade even under constrained budgets.  The effort would also have the added benefit of creating a whole new industry--on-orbit satellite servicing.

                    So the question is do we start going to space sustainable or what?

                    •  I hope you're right (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      and I salute your enthusiasm for this. I'd just like to see a detailed plan and fully crunched numbers (that don't assume a miracle happens). Plus I wouldn't support moon-top removal mining on any significant scale, since that is no more 'sustainable' than is the way we live down here today. It's just NOMHP-SPS (not on my home planet -- so problem solved).

                      Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Wait...what?

                      by DocDawg on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 07:56:48 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  well, as a Florida resident, I can speak to that (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      rduran, DocDawg

                      NASA is very reluctant to make large-scale use of nuclear fuel in space, for one reason and one reason only----if a launch rocket should happen to blow up on the pad with a payload of nuclear fuel, it will scatter radioactive dust over the entire launch complex. With isotopes like uranium or plutonium, the contamination would then be permanent, necessitating a very long and expensive process of scraping off all the contaminated soil and storing it somewhere until the launch complex can be used again.

                      NASA doesn't want to risk it.  NASA does have a launch vehicle success rate over 95%, and an exploded launch vehicle may happen only once in a thousand launches.  But once is enough to do the damage.

                      PS--the people who live near Cape Canaveral are not big fans of inhaling pulverized radioactive rocket dust from an explosion either.

                      So I don't seen large-scale nukes in space until there is a space elevator or some other non-chemical-rocket method of getting them there.

                      In the end, reality always wins.

                      by Lenny Flank on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 08:43:31 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

          •  We only have one reference (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lenny Flank

            for the success of intelligent life in the universe, and we're still here and kicking.  

            I'm more interested in settling our solar system than meeting aliens, nice as it would be.  All my stuff is up there.

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