Rosetta mission: Scientists say goodbye to spacecraft as it reunites with Philae lander and dies

'Farewell Rosetta! We will miss you,' a message on the operation centre's door reads

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The Independent Online

Scientists have said goodbye to one of the most ambitious space projects of recent years. The Rosetta spacecraft – which has spent two years finding out everything it can about the comet it orbits around – will die when it crashes into its surface. 

Two years after Rosetta dropped the lander Philae onto a comet, the pair have been reunited. Neither will ever be able to communicate with Earth again – a decision made because the craft was about to become too far away from the sun to communicate with Earth anyway.

All it took to destroy the craft, and with it bring an end to Europe’s most successful space project ever, was 249 lines of instructions. They told Rosetta to fire its thrusters for 208 seconds, which put it on a collision course with the comet it has spent years orbiting around.

When it hit the ground, it joined the tiny lander it dropped onto the comet’s surface last November. Before the lander was dropped, the two had spent 10 years flying through space on their way to the comet.

The £1bn quest ended on Friday around midday UK time, when the Rosetta craft hit the comet’s surface and Earth will lose contact with it. Before then, scientists hope to get their last pieces of information – some of which might be the most important ever spotted, since Rosetta will be able to get so close to the surface.

The main control room the European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany during the controlled descent of the Rosetta probe (Getty)

Scientists working on the mission have spent recent days preparing to say goodbye to the craft, which they have been designing and steering through the solar system for years. Tributes have included a special box of tissues – ready for anyone weeping at the end of the mission – shaped like Rosetta itself.

A note signed by the team and left on the main control room door at the European Space Operations Centre said: "Farewell Rosetta! We will miss you."

Professor Monica Grady, a British scientist involved in the design of the lander, said she had "very mixed feelings" as the end approached.

European Space Agency worker Mattial Malmer with a pillow in the shape of comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Reuters)

"It's been a fantastic mission, but it's time now to move on to the next one," she said. "It's been a tremendous achievement by the European Space Agency, it's been absolutely amazing."