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Europe's Rosetta spacecraft, which is heading for a rendezvous with a comet in 2014, has been put into hibernation by its controllers.
The command was sent from Germany on Wednesday, instructing the probe to enter a deep sleep. Only heaters and an "alarm clock" have been left running.
Nothing will be heard from the spacecraft for the next two-and-a-half years - not even a reassuring beep.
Rosetta should wake up at 1000 GMT on 20 January 2014.
Assuming it does, the spacecraft will then be just a few months away from its appointment with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko out near the Planet Jupiter.
The 31 months of sleep will see Rosetta fly an arc some 660 million km from the Sun out to 790 million km and back. The probe is already the most distant spacecraft to operate on solar power, but such is its remoteness now that the solar panels are providing very little energy. Putting the probe to sleep will draw minimum power.
It has already delivered some fascinating science, particularly at the close passes it made to two asteroids - the rocks Steins, in 2008, and Lutetia, in 2010.
When Rosetta wakes in the January of 2014, it will use the time before its July rendezvous to study Churyumov-Gerasimenko and plan its approach.
The intention is for Rosetta to follow the comet as it moves in towards the Sun, monitoring the changes that take place on the body.
This animation comprises a series of images that include Comet 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko acquired by the European Southern Observatory (ESO; first image only) and by Rosetta's OSIRIS imaging system (all subsequent images) on 25/26 March 2011 at a distance of 163 mn km. The images show a progressively narrower field of view, 'zooming in' on the comet, which initially is invisible against the background star field.
Originally posted by samkent
Not that I'm doubting your info/post ....
I wonder how they are going to keep the solar arrays pointed at the sun if the probe is in deep sleep?
When in deep space hibernation mode the spacecraft is spin-stabilized as opposed to being 3-axes stabilized. On 20 January the spin-up for the DSHM test was initiated, at 18:00 UT. The spacecraft's 10-Newton thrusters (only those on branch A of the reaction control subsystem) were used for the spin-up. These were also used again at the end of the DSHM test for the spacecraft spin-down.
But this will be no break for researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR); they will continue to train in preparation for Rosetta's arrival in May 2014. Six months after reaching the comet, Philae, the Rosetta lander, will become the first spacecraft to land on a comet.
"The spacecraft will remain pointed towards the Sun over the next two-and-a-half years, but only a clock, some heaters that are part of the thermal control system and a radio receiver will remain in operation."
Its first time when they try landing to object that doesn't have gravity.