Ground control bids farewell to Philae comet lander2 min read

Ground controllers say it is time to give up hope of ever hearing again from the comet lander Philae.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission dropped the robot onto Comet 67P in November 2014.

But after a troubled landing and 60 hours of operation, there has largely been radio silence from Philae.

 On its historic landing in November, Philae did not make the graceful touchdown depicted here

On its historic landing in November, Philae did not make the graceful touchdown depicted here

The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which led the consortium behind Philae, said the lander is probably now covered in dust and too cold to function.

“Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands,” said Stephan Ulamec, the lander’s project manager at DLR.

The probe’s historic landing famously happened several times in succession – with its first bounce looping nearly 1km back from the comet’s surface and lasting a remarkable 110 minutes.

When it finally settled, its precise location was unknown but images and other data suggested it was sitting at an awkward angle, in the shade.

Philae sent back the first ever photos from the surface of a comet

Philae sent back the first ever photos from the surface of a comet

That meant Philae’s scientific activities were limited to a single charge of its solar-powered batteries.

On several occasions, attempts to contact Philae – via the Rosetta spacecraft, still orbiting Comet 67P – did receive a response.

But the last such contact was on July 9 2015 and the comet is now hurtling into the much colder part of its orbit, plunging to temperatures below -180C at which the lander was never designed to operate.

“It would be very surprising if we received a signal now,” Dr Ulamec said.

Science continues

The Rosetta mothership may have a chance to take some final pictures of Philae in the summer, during a series of close fly-bys.

Rosetta itself will end its mission when it falls onto the comet in September.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the European Space Agency’s senior science advisor Mark McCaughrean said today’s news was sad but inevitable.

“It’s a sad day, of course. Philae certainly captured the imagination around the world back in 2014.

“But all good things come to an end. In fact, if it had landed properly on the surface in the first place, it all would have been over last March because Philae would have overheated.”

Prof McCaughrean emphasised that the Rosetta orbiter was “still out there doing fantastic science”.

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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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