European Space Agency’s comet lander fails to communicate, running out of time2 min read

The clock is running out on a spacecraft that made history by landing on a comet in November 2014.

The Philae lander was part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and was the first to ever make a controlled landing on a comet.

 A close-up view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken on Dec. 12, 2015. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


A close-up view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken on Dec. 12, 2015.
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

 

However, the lander’s anchors — designed to keep it affixed to the comet — didn’t fire, causing it to bounce twice. Contact was lost on Nov. 15, 2014 when the probe was put into safe mode (conserving some battery power), but re-established on June 13, 2015.  After several transmissions, Philae went silent on July 9, 2015.

ESA controllers have continually attempted to make contact with Philae, but with no luck (Philae actually sends its transmissions to parent spacecraft Rosetta, which is in orbit around the comet).

On Sunday, controllers attempted to change Philae’s position. However, no communication was received from Rosetta indicating that the lander had attempted communication.

“Unfortunately, Philae’s silence does not bode well,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

And time is running out.

 Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, seen by Rosetta from Dec. 18, 2015 to Dec. 19, 2015. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0


Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, seen by Rosetta from Dec. 18, 2015 to Dec. 19, 2015.
ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

 

As the comet moves away from the sun, it will become too dim and too cold for the lander to survive: by the end of January, the comet will be more than 300 million km from the sun, giving the lander an internal temperature of -51 C.

Scientists believe that one of its transmitters and two of its receivers may have failed, and the remaining transmitter and receiver aren’t in optimal condition.

Rosetta’s mission will end in September, when it, too will reach the surface. There is a chance that it may be able to see Philae’s final resting place.

 

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Sebastien Clarke

Sebastien Clarke

Astronaut is dedicated to bringing you the latest news, reviews and information from the world of space, entertainment, sci-fi and technology. With videos, images, forums, blogs and more, get involved today & join our community!
Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

Astronaut is dedicated to bringing you the latest news, reviews and information from the world of space, entertainment, sci-fi and technology. With videos, images, forums, blogs and more, get involved today & join our community!

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