Philae could come back to life in March (Wired UK)


Rosetta landing event

ESA/J.Mai


Philae could spring back into life in March 2015 as Comet 67P hurtles closer to the Sun, engineers
working on the Rosetta mission have
confirmed. Philae is currently only receiving around one hour of
sunlight during the comet’s 12-hour day, with its batteries frozen
by surface temperatures of minus 70 Celsius.

But the team remains confident that the lander will
soon receive enough sunlight and warmth to make a remarkable return
to life. In a Reddit AMA engineers and scientists working on the mission
explained what was needed to revive Philae:

“We expect to have enough energy to boot around March
next year. Then Philae needs to be heated until we can think of
starting to charge the battery,” Michael Maibaum, Philae systems
engineer said.

Stephan Ulamec, manager of the Philae lander,
added that he was “very optimistic” that it would soon wake up. He
added that the amount of science that the team will be able to do
when that happens will depend on how long it takes to recharge the
frozen batteries.

The team also talked about the most surprising
discoveries made by the mission. Comet 67P’s hard surface topped
the list, with co-investigator on the Sesame experiment Martin
Knapmeyer saying he expected the comet to be “more fluffy”.

Work is still ongoing to find the final resting place
of Philae. Closer orbits of Rosetta are expected to deliver
higher-quality images — these should, in theory, make Philae
easier to spot. The team is using a combination of images from the
Osiris camera and Consert experiment to locate Philae.

Scientists also talked about the limitations of using
decades old technology. With the mission first conceived over 20
years ago and launched in 2004 the computing capabilities of the
craft are severely limited by today’s standards.

“The biggest drawback for Philae was the limited
computer power and mass memory. What we could install there — 800
MHz CPU and some MB memory — seems to be from another world
today,” said Ekkehard K├╝hrt, science manager for Rosetta. Despite
that, the 20-year-old technology worked “nearly perfectly”.

On future scientific missions in space, comet
scientist Horst Uwe Keller said that the return of a comet’s
nucleus to laboratories on Earth would be hugely exciting:

“Bringing back a sample of the most pristine material
we can imaging will provide a major step in the understanding of
the physical and chemical conditions of the early solar system out
of which our planetary system formed,” he explained.

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27 November 2014 | 12:03 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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