DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) – The European Space Agency’s unmanned Rosetta probe successfully released a lander toward the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, putting it on its final seven-hour journey to a historic rendezvous with the fast-moving lump of dust and ice.
The audacious landing attempt is the climax of a decade-long mission to study the 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) wide comet, which is travelling at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph). It is also the end of a 6.4 billion-kilometre (4 billion-mile) journey on which Rosetta carried its sidekick lander Philae piggyback.
“It’s on its own now,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center. He said that “we’ll need some luck not to land on a boulder or a steep slope.”
If successful, it will be the first time that a spacecraft has landed on a comet. Confirmation of a landing should reach Earth by about 1603 GMT (11.03am EST).
ESA announced early Wednesday that the 100-kilogramme (220-pound) lander’s active descent system, which uses thrust to prevent the craft from bouncing off the comet’s surface, could not be activated.