Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have begun devising plans on how to land the Rosetta spacecraft on the surface of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet for its final mission next year.

According to the agency, the objective is to have the space probe reunite with the Philae lander, which made its touchdown on the rocky nucleus of the comet close to a year ago.

The ESA has extended Rosetta's service after securing sufficient fuel and funding for the exploration of the 67P comet. Its final mission will begin in December and will run until September 2016.

Matt Taylor, one of the project scientists working on the Rosetta mission, said they have just completed their first year of exploration of the comet and are now looking toward making further scientific discoveries in the coming year.

Catching Up With The 67P Comet

Following a 10-year journey across the solar system, the Rosetta spacecraft was finally able to reach the area of the 67P comet in August 2014. The probe completed the first part of its mission by dropping the Philae lander on the comet's surface in November 2014.

Rosetta was forced to back off from 67P's nucleus as the comet reached its closest point of orbit to the sun, known as perihelion, on Aug. 13. The maneuver was carried out to protect the spacecraft from the buildup of potentially dangerous gas and dust clouds forming around the 67P comet.

With Rosetta beginning to lose its level of activity as it moves farther away from the sun, the spacecraft is now gradually getting closer to the 67P comet.

As of Nov. 12, the probe has reached around 170 kilometers (105 miles) from 67P's nucleus. Experts believe it will likely move closer toward the surface of the comet in the succeeding months.

"Next year, we plan to do another far excursion, this time through the comet's tail and out to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,200 miles)," Taylor said.

"To complement that, we hope to make some very close flybys towards the end of the mission, as we prepare to put the orbiter down on the comet."

Restoring Communications Link with Philae

The planned flybys are expected to provide agency scientists with one last chance to reestablish communications with the Philae lander after the ESA lost contact with the spacecraft in July.

The ice screws and anchoring harpoons of the Philae Lander failed to deploy when it was able to reach its supposed landing point on the 67P comet known as Agilkia. Despite a bouncy landing, the spacecraft was able to rebound and make a touchdown on a cliff.

The slight mishap has caused Philae to be lodged against the cliff where rock walls prevented the lander from recharging its batteries through solar power. Just before its energy supplies were drained, the space probe was still able to collect as much as 80 percent of its intended scientific data.

ESA scientists believed Philae would reactivate itself once it receives enough solar energy when the 67P comet reaches closer to the sun. This proved true as the lander made radio broadcast to mission control via the Rosetta spacecraft.

Philae's communication with mission controllers, however, was only intermittent, and it was finally cut off on July 9.

Agency officials said temperatures on the 67P comet in January will likely be too cold for the probe to function effectively.

Mission controllers have placed the Rosetta spacecraft in hibernation as it gets closer to 67P's nucleus. The trajectory the space probe is on right now will likely take it farther from the sun as the comet itself heads toward the outer parts of the solar system.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.