Philae Team Will Attempt to Contact Lost Lander on March 12

Tuesday, 10 March 2015 - 5:00PM
Science News
Astronomy
Philae/Rosetta
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 - 5:00PM
Philae Team Will Attempt to Contact Lost Lander on March 12

We sadly lost contact with Rosetta's Philae lander late last year, shortly after it became the first spacecraft to land directly onto a comet. But the Philae team still hasn't lost hope that we'll regain contact with Philae, and will make their first official attempt to communicate with the lander in just two days.

 

After Philae made its historic landing on November 12, 2014, one of its harpoons didn't deploy correctly, and so it bounced for approximately two hours before landing in a shady area. It didn't receive enough sunlight to maintain its solar power, and as a result it sputtered and died soon after completing its primary science mission. But this doesn't necessarily mean the end for the lander, as there may be a window of opportunity when the comet moves closer to the sun. If Philae is able to regain power once it has more exposure to sunlight, but before it fries when it comes too close to the sun, then we could possibly retrieve more groundbreaking data about the comet.

 

The team admits that it's a long shot, but there's an outside chance that they could contact Philae as early as March 12, now that the comet and Philae are only 300 million kilometers from the Sun. "Philae currently receives about twice as much solar energy as it did in November last year," said Lander Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. "It will probably still be too cold for the lander to wake up, but it is worth trying. The prospects will improve with each passing day."

 

In order to awaken, Philae must be able to reach a very specific internal temperature- 45 degrees Celsius- before its system will automatically reboot. If it manages to awaken, then it will switch on its receiver every 30 minutes in order to receive a signal from Rosetta, which is still sending transmissions to Philae. However, there's a chance that Philae could awaken- or could be awake already- and we would have no way of knowing, as it requires even more power to turn on its transmitter. 

 

There's every chance that the circumstances won't be quite right for Philae to wake up and start talking to us again. But the team is optimistic, and insists that even if it doesn't work this time, it's hardly their last chance, as Philae will continue to build up energy as it moves closer to the Sun.

 

"If we cannot establish contact with Philae before 20 March, we will make another attempt at the next opportunity," said Ulamec. "Once we can communicate with Philae again, the scientific work can begin."

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