‘Time running out’ for failed Philae comet lander (Wired UK)

Rosetta Philae Artist Impression


“Time is running out” for the Philae comet lander, according to the European Space Agency.

Philae reached the surface of a comet in 2014, after descending from the Rosetta space probe. ESA has sadly failed to communicate consistently with the robot, following a brief 57 hour window after it successfully landed on comet 67P, also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Now ESA have sent a “last-ditch” message to the lander in an attempt to trigger a response — and the bad news is that it seems to have failed. 

“Time is running out, so we want to explore all possibilities,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager, in a statement

There’s been nothing back yet. If there’s no response by the end of January, Philae will be in trouble — because the comet is rapidly moving further and further away from the Sun, conditions on its surface will soon be too hostile for it to survive. 

Philae has had a bad run of luck since it descended to the comet’s surface. First, its harpoons failed to anchor it to the surface of the comet, leaving it bouncing around and ending up a significant distance from its original target. When it eventually settled, it was in an area of low sunlight — meaning its solar panels couldn’t get enough light to power its battery. 

It eventually woke up as it got closer to the Sun, but the team lost contact again in 2015.

The team hope that if the new command is successfully received, it may shift Philae’s position. 

“At best, the spacecraft might shake dust from its solar panels and better align itself with the Sun,” explained Philae’s technical manager Koen Geurts. 

It’s best not to hold out too much hope, though — according to Ulamec, “Philae’s silence does not bode well”. 

The Rosetta mission is set to continue until the end of September, and a communication unit will remain switched on in case Philae decides to communicate with the team beyond January. 

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12 January 2016 | 4:19 pm – Source: wired.co.uk


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