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Rosetta and comet Churymov Gerasimenko - Five landing sites selected for Philae

08/26/2014 | By CNES

Two and a half months before the long-awaited touchdown of Philae, the Rosetta spacecraft’s small lander, CNES convened scores of scientists from CNES, ESA and DLR plus other agencies and laboratories at the Toulouse Space Centre this weekend, to draw up a list of five landing sites on the nucleus of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Touchdown is on-schedule for mid-November.

The 60 scientists who met in Toulouse this weekend, at the SONC (Science, Operations and Navigation Centre) within CNES, plus their colleagues linked-in via internet, had a tricky task – to find five viable landing sites for Philae, the small, 100-kilo lander attached to the Rosetta spacecraft. The areas selected had to meet a number of criteria – they must be able to ensure regular communication between Philae and Rosetta, provide a landing surface that will enable Philae to touch down under good conditions (avoiding rough terrain), and guarantee enough sunlight to recharge the lander’s batteries and enable the scientists to complete their operations.

The five sites unveiled below have therefore been approved by those scientists, as theoretically offering the best guarantee of a successful landing and of a productive in-situ analysis of the comet. Between now and 14 September, this list will be refined and classed from the most suitable site to the least suitable, and a full landing strategy developed. Rosetta will then make an approach to within 20 or 30 kilometres of the comet, in order to obtain more detailed pictures of the five sites and thereby identify the one with the smoothest terrain. The final site should be confirmed between 12 and 14 October.

For Philippe Gaudon, head of the Rosetta project at CNES: “The SONC has played a key role in choosing the best landing areas. Our calculations have enabled us to identify landing surfaces on the comet nucleus where Philae will be able to land with the slowest possible speed – less than 4 km/h, and the shortest possible descent time – around five to six hours, while also checking orbiter sunlight levels and visibility. Our facilities have given the Philae scientific community extremely rapid access to all of these elements, in order to make its selection. The teams demonstrated a high degree of reactivity, even managing to integrate data received during this weekend’s discussions. To give one example, the identified landing areas were shifted to take into account the latest images provided by the Osiris instrument.”

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