Philae Lander Goes to Sleep, Possibly Forever
After a groundbreaking 10-year mission, Rosetta's Philae Lander has powered down, possibly for good. Philae was the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on a comet.
After its historic touchdown on a comet, Philae was supposed to remain and transmitting data from the comet for up to nine months. After an initial 67-hour charge, it was intended to be powered by a secondary battery that runs on solar power, but Philae's troubled landing placed it in a shadowy area, so it only received 1.5 hours of sunlight per day as opposed to the predicted 7 hours.
So much hard work.. getting tired... my battery voltage is approaching the limit soon now pic.twitter.com/GHl4B8NPzm— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 14, 2014
Philae was lost to Earth for most of its mission, but Rosetta may have caught one brief glimpse of the lander on the comet before its mission was over:
Scientists rushed to save Philae from powering down prematurely, and failing that, to receive all the pertinent data before its operations shut down. They were unable to save the lander, as Philae went silent early Saturday morning. There's a small probability that it could briefly wake up and transmit images sometime this year, but there's every chance that we will never hear from it again.
But prior to its shutdown, Philae managed to fulfill its primary science goals and send back crucial data, including the the first close-up picture of the surface of a comet.
"The lander [was] racing against the clock to meet as many of the core science goals as possible before the primary battery [was] exhausted," ESA said.
"The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science," said Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist.
"Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence," said Stephan Ulamec, Philae's Lander Manager. "This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered."
The latter quote from Ulamec demonstrates our collective attachment to Philae; the little underdog lander wormed its way into the hearts of scientists and the public alike, and the general discussion about Philae often anthropomorphizes and personifies it. This can be seen in XKCD's adorable live-cartoons of the comet landing, as well as the following exchange between the Philae and Rosetta Twitter accounts: