The Rosetta spacecraft of the European Space Agency is about 10 years into its journey to chase the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It was in deep slumber for 957 days since it was put into hibernation in mid-2011 to save on energy. On Jan. 20, the international mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with its member states and NASA, received signal from Rosetta after an internal alarm clock went off, making the spacecraft wake up.
Rosetta was launched in 2004 and is on its course to become the first spacecraft to meet with a comet, head for a comet's surface, and trail a comet as it goes around our sun. Since its journey began, the solar-powered spacecraft has drifted about 500 million miles away from Earth, or way past Jupiter's orbit, to put things in perspective. Rosetta is still 5.6 million miles from its target rendezvous.
"Rosetta's pre-programmed internal 'alarm clock' woke up the spacecraft. After warming up its key navigation instruments, coming out of a stabilising spin, and aiming its main radio antenna at Earth, Rosetta sent a signal to let mission operators know it had survived the most distant part of its journey. The signal was received by both NASA's Goldstone and Canberra ground stations at 18:18 GMT/ 19:18 CET, during the first window of opportunity the spacecraft had to communicate with Earth," reported the ESA.
Rosetta, including its lander and orbiter, carries with it 25 instruments that it will use as it meets up with the 67P comet that is expected to be a big mass of dust and ice with a chaotic surface that spews cyanide, carbon dioxide, and ice particles.
"We have our comet-chaser back. With Rosetta, we will take comet exploration to a new level. This incredible mission continues our history of 'firsts' at comets, building on the technological and scientific achievements of our first deep space mission Giotto, which returned the first close-up images of a comet nucleus as it flew past Halley in 1986," said director of science and robotic exploration at ESA, Alvaro Gimenez.
The spacecraft woke up without a glitch but mission control will be carrying out the necessary tests to make sure that all systems of Rosetta are working fine. Once everything is confirmed to be working, its instruments will be turned on in preparation for the its meetup with Comet 67P.
Rosetta will be studying everything about its celestial date with first images of the comet set to be sent back to earth in May. A landing site will then be chosen by scientists to ensure the safety of the Philae probe set to make mankind's first attempt to land on a comet in November. The small probe that weighs as much an average person, will send back data about the surface and surroundings it is exposed to. Rosetta will then tandem ride through space and trail 67P as it moves closer to the sun in 2015.
Below are two videos showing how Rosetta woke up and its journey so far.