Europe’s Rosetta Probe Reaches Climax of Its Mission / Opinion

ROSETTA PROBE MISSION:

AdminCadet:  Europe’s Rosetta probe is reaching it’s comet destination after approximately ten years.  The first image below is a view of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken on June 28, 2014, at a distance of about 86,000 km (approx 53,000 miles) between the probe and the comet.  The second image is a Rosetta navigation camera (NavCam) view of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken one month later on August 3, 2013, at a distance of approximately 300 km (186 miles).

An nbcnews.com discussion of the ESA (European Space Agency) mission, published August 3, 2014, is available at the following link:

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/europes-rosetta-probe-reaches-climax-its-comet-chasing-mission-n171626

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 28 June 2014 (approx 86,000 km / 53,000 miles):

67P:Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken June 28, 2014

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 3 August 2014 (approx 300 km / 186 miles):

Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Further images and information on the Rosetta mission can be found at the following ESA sites:

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta

http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/

OPINION: AdminCadet: On a separate discussion more related to our US NASA program, note the non-spherical shape of the comet in the second image compared to the fuzzy round shape that appears in the first image.  As the two images show, it is very difficult to ascertain the real shape of the comet depending on distance from the object.  The comet’s real shape and characteristics are much more evident when taken from a closer distance, as would be expected.  However, the differences between the two images demonstrate pretty clearly how difficult it will be for NASA to select an asteroid from a great distance for the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM) currently in planning.   NASA management has mandated the ARM as NASA’s new human space exploration mission. It entails robotically retrieving an asteroid and returning it to Earth-Moon space to allow astronauts to physically sample and retrieve material from the asteroid.  Some space cadets worry that the inability to accurately determine the shape and make up of an asteroid from a distance will make designing the initial robotic retrieval portion of the mission very difficult, if not impossible.  [On a side note: It will be interesting to see what detection methods will be developed to select the right asteroid target for the ARM].

Another issue of the ARM mission concerns the delays this would establish in human exploration activities.  Once the asteroid is brought to Earth-Moon space, the astronauts would utilize the in-design / build Orion capsule and Space Launch System Rocket (SLS) to reach the retrieved asteroid.  Unfortunately, the retrieval portion of the mission could take as long as seven to ten years due to the propulsion systems required for the robotic vehicle, resulting in no human space operations until potentially the late 2020s or early 2030s (depending when the mission was initiated).  This would mean further postponement of US human exploration activities (and potential loss of skills) in the meantime except for those related to the international space station.

Per Wikipedia:  “As of June 2014 more than 1,000 new near-Earth asteroids have been discovered by various search teams and catalogued by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program.   Twenty of those identified so far could be good candidates for ARM. On June 19, 2014, NASA reported that asteroid 2011 MD was a prime candidate for capture… perhaps in the early 2020s… 2011 MD is an… asteroid that passed relatively close to Earth’s surface – at a distance of about 12,000 kilometers (7500 miles), roughly the diameter of the Earth… on June 27, 2011… 2011 MD was observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope in February 2014 and estimated to be 6 meters (20 ft) in diameter.  The asteroid is a porous rubble pile with a density similar to water…”

The third image below shows 2011 MD viewed in February 2014 by the Spitzer Space Telescope, IRAC.

Image of 2011 MD Asteroid in February, 2014:

2011 ND asteroid

IN CONCLUSION:  Perhaps going back to the Moon, a well mapped Near-Earth Object, would make more sense instead of chasing after an asteroid of imperfectly determined size and composition in a mission that could take up to two decades to initiate and complete.  Planning and conducting robotic and human missions to the Moon are sensible and well-advised first steps toward future Mars and outer planetary human exploration missions.  The ARM mission, except for enabling improvements in long distance detection sensors (admittedly a worthy goal), does not seem to provide a reasonable stepping stone toward direct human exploration of our solar system.

CREDITS:

Rosetta Article credit: nbcnews.com – Mike Wall – August 3, 2014

Photo Imagery Credits:

Images 1 and 2 (and accompanying information): Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, June 28, 2014 and August 4, 2014 [taken from ESA site:  blogs.esa.int/rosetta/]

Image 3: Asteroid 2011MD, Spitzer Space Telescope, IRAC, February 2014.

2011 MD Asteroid Information Credit: Wikipedia.

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2 thoughts on “Europe’s Rosetta Probe Reaches Climax of Its Mission / Opinion

  1. There is one reason and one reason only why we’re attempting to redirect an asteroid. Politics.
    There is one reason and one reason only why we’re not going to the Moon. Politics.
    And on the latter, no one should be surprised.
    When Obama ran for office, he made no bones about wanting to redirect space program funding to his education programs. This was in 2008. The administration’s disinterest in anything space related is NOTHING NEW.
    The administration has touted their (hollow) support for STEM programs. But what the administration has neglected is the reality that space exploration has a huge effect towards inspiring kids to want to study math and science. What good does it do to tell a kid to major in science only to hit him/her later with the cold reality of no funding for a chosen profession in science? It’s ludicrous.

    So this administration clearly has no clue, and no desire to help the space program.

    The disposal of the Constellation program was largely driven by the Obama administration’s dislike for all things Bush (i.e., George Bush). It had its problems, but the kicker was that Bush came up with Constellation, so Obama had to kill it.

    Obama doesn’t care about space, but he’s also politically savvy enough to realize you can’t simply dissolve the space agency, so he had to throw NASA a bone. His uneducated advisers concocted this asteroid thing as a “stepping-stone” out into the solar system.
    Sounds cool.
    It isn’t.
    What the asteroid mission does is keep NASA on life support – BARELY – while shoving NASA out of the president’s primary budget concerns. We will toss BILLIONS in one year at a VA hospital fix… BILLIONS in one year at the border crossing immigrant problem… the military will sneeze and spend BILLIONS a DAY… and yet, as soon as someone mentions flying into space, people scream about how NASA is “wasting” $3B over several years on SLS. SLS has its problems, but let’s keep this in perspective. The military will burn through NASA’s ENTIRE annual budget in just a few days. For NASA’s pittance, we get the Space Station, planetary exploration, Hubble, Mars rovers, and Orion and SLS development. So… my rambling point here is that NASA is still doing its best given the limited care and feeding from the White House.

    Now… the business of the asteroid redirect mission…
    The scientific community is universally opposed to it. It is nonsense.
    There are 3 things you want to do when studying asteroids (and comets):
    1) What are they made of? Chemical and mineralogical examination will help us understand the formation and evolution of the solar system.
    2) What is their structural makeup? Asteroids are not just “rocks” – to the dismay of the engineers who think they can just throw a bag around one and tow it back to the Moon (a laughable concept). There are solid rocks, there are shattered rocks. There are iron balls. There are rubble piles and puff balls, either of which will crush if you attempt to “bag” one. There are contact binaries (a la 67P/C-G). There are non-contact binaries co-orbiting a center of gravity. Some have satellites. You have to know physical characteristics BEFORE you spend billions on a capture mechanism.
    3) Planetary defense. We need to understand the best way to move one if we find it has our number on it – assuming we have enough lead time. One solution does not fit all.

    You can do 1, 2, and 3 ALL robotically. Indeed, they are BEST done robotically. Sending Orion to pull a rock off the surface is ludicrous. It’s just a job works program and justification for Orion’s existence. And it’s a dead-end. It contributes very little to our ability to explore the rest of the solar system.
    Rosetta’s up close examination of 67P/C-G also clearly reminds us we don’t understand these objects nearly well enough to attempt to spend billions on a hardware design to shove one around the solar system. This mission has kept Orion and SLS alive to appease the Denver and Huntsville constituencies. It gives the NASA anthill something to work on so Obama doesn’t have to worry about us. His clear direction to Charlie Bolden: “Don’t ask for more money. Don’t do anything to draw my focus.”

    Under this president, ARM is the only hope for manned spaceflight. Period.

    What should also be clear, ARM will not survive the 2016 election.
    So, our concern becomes… what will happen when the asteroid mission is (rightly) killed by the next administration? Will Orion and SLS follow? Or will sanity prevail and the Moon will again become a priority? Only time will tell.

    Of course some will then say, “You’re just a Moon zealot.”
    No… I’m a logic zealot.
    The Moon is the next logical step. It’s a planet right in our back yard.
    Racing off to Mars is also folly. We’re not ready yet. Baby steps.

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