Rosetta Probe Starts Drilling Into Comet

Scientists say the Philae lander has begun drilling into its comet – although battery issues may stop them obtaining any data.

The team at the European Space Agency (ESA) hope to extract some of the material buried beneath the comet’s surface.

But it is not clear whether they will succeed, Stephan Ulamec, head of operations for Philae, said in an online briefing.

He added controllers still do not know exactly where the probe landedon comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkoon Wednesday.

The Philae lander is the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet and has sent first images from the surface of the body.

But two harpoons that should have anchored it to the surface did not properly deploy when it landed.

That caused Philaeto bounce and drift through the void for two hours before touching down again.

After a second, smaller bounce scientists believe it came to rest in a shallow crater on the comet’s 2.5-mile (4km)-wide body, or nucleus.

ESA mission control still has not been able to locate the probe, althoughit is believed to be next to a cliff that is blocking sunlight from its solar panels.

This means it has been operating almost entirely on battery power, which is expected to run out in the next day or so.

Philippe Gaudon, an ESA project manager, said by using that powerPhilae was able to successfully deploy its drill and bore 10 inches (25cm) into the comet’s surface to start collecting samples.

“So the mechanism has worked, but unfortunately we have lost the link and we have no more data,” he told reporters in the briefing.

Mr Ulamec said right now it was unknown whether battery power would be sufficient to link back up with the probe.

“Maybe the battery will be empty before we get contact again,” he said.

Meantime, he said the probe is receiving “very limited power” from its solar panels and project engineers are trying to determine how they might move them so they get more sunlight.

Even if Philae uses up all its energy, it will remain on the comet in hibernation mode for the coming months.

There is a chance it could wake up again if the body passes the sun in such a way that the solar panels catch more light.

Meanwhile, its mother ship, the Rosetta orbiter, will use all of its 11 instruments to gather as much data as possible .

Scientists hope the 1.03bn (1.3bn euro) project will help them better understand comets and other celestial objects, as well as possibly answer questions about the origins of life on Earth.

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14 November 2014 | 3:41 pm – Source: orange.co.uk

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