Rendezvous with Rosetta’s comet – new 3-D simulator lets you be the pilot

A new interactive visualization of the Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Go ahead and hit play – it’s live.

Up for an interplanetary ride along? Now you can with this fantastic new interactive model that tracks Rosetta’s 4.3 billion mile journey to comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

While the embedded simulation above gives you a taste, be sure to visit the full-screen version for the full experience. You can simply play the movie from start to end or select from a list of mission highlights.

Simulator view of Rosetta in August when in orbit around the comet. Credit: INOVE

To interact with the model, simply click the screen. The action stops, allowing you to zoom in and out by scrolling. If you’d like to change your point of view and see Rosetta’s travels from above or below or the plane of the planets, hold down the mouse button and drag. Nothing to it. A live timeline at the bottom of the screen shows the date of each new maneuver.

The team at INOVE Space Models, the same folks that brought you the 3-D interactive solar system model and Comet ISON visualization, created the new model to help armchair astronauts enjoy and better understand Rosetta’s complex series of planetary flybys and the mission ahead.

Simulator view of Rosetta’s first Earth flyby- gravity assist in March 2005. The probe flew by Earth three times and Mars once to conserve fuel and send it beyond the asteroid belt to rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: INOVE

No single rocket was capable of sending the probe directly to the comet. Instead scientists sent it bouncing around the inner solar system on a series of close encounters with Earth and Mars. Rosetta buzzed Earth three times and Mars once. At each flyby, the spacecraft got a gravitational ‘kick’ that boosted its speed and shaped its orbit for the coming comet encounter. I’m reminded of a bee gathering nectar flower by flower to feed the next generation of bees.

To pocket all the gravitational nectar Rosetta needed, it ended up circling the sun four times, the reason its odometer will ping 4.3 billion miles by the time it reaches the comet. Consider that Pluto’s ‘only’ 3.6 billion miles away.

Scientists employed similar gravity assists to send the Voyager I and II probes from Jupiter to more distant Saturn, Uranus and Neptune back in the late 1970s-early ’80s.

This artist’s impression shows the Rosetta spacecraft and the comet’s nucleus and hazy coma at the time the Philae lander is dispatched this November. Credit: ESA

Launched in 2004, Rosetta will begin braking maneuvers near Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May and orbit it by August. On Nov. 11, the probe will dispatch a smaller craft named Philae that will land on the surface of the comet and study it close up. Plans call for Rosetta to scrutinize Comet C-G for a year centered on its closest approach to the sun.

I think you’ll really enjoy the new simulator, and I guarantee you’ll come away with a better understanding and appreciation of one of the boldest missions ever attempted.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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