The Rosetta spacecraft is currently in hibernation, but is heading back towards the inner Solar System – getting warmer and happier! Despite having large solar panels to collect the Sun’s light and turn it into electrical energy, at it’s farthest from the Sun Rosetta just doesn’t get enough juice to keep all of the on-board systems running. To get around this, the spacecraft was all but switched off for the coldest and loneliest part of the journey.
Although we’re out of contact with the spacecraft, unless something unexpected has happened we are pretty sure we know where it is! ESA have produced this nice app to show the entire trajectory from launch until the end of mission – that’s a journey of 10 years! Unfortunately it seems to be only available in German, but hopefully it’s still clear. On the left side of the app “Ereignis” lets you choose an event – by default the app shows “Jetzt” – now – and gives you the up-to-date position of the spacecraft.
Along the bottom you can re-centre the view on various objects – for now the comet and spacecraft are the most interesting! Finally you can change the zoom level at the top, and hit the play button to run an animation forward in time. As you can see we’re almost at the comet!
All being well, Rosetta will wake up on schedule on Monday 20th January 2014, call home, and let us know that everything is fine. Then it's all systems go as the spacecraft trajectory is adjusted to put us on our final intercept course to intercept and land on a comet!