Philae Gets Lost in Space, Falls Silent Once Again
After a long and suspenseful saga, Philae has fallen silent once again. The lander, which touched down on a comet at November 12 of last year, re-established contact with Earth on June 13, but has now been giving us the silent treatment since July 9. The leaders of the ESA project fear that the lander has moved its position, making it more difficult for the spacecraft Rosetta to locate it for communication.
Philae first touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko late last year, but had a bumpy landing, and spent two hours bouncing all over the comet before settling in a shady area. Since the lander uses solar panels, it was unable to absorb enough sunlight to recharge itself, and went to sleep after only a few days. Philae finally woke up and re-established contact with Earth last month when the comet moved closer to the sun, and has called home eight times since then, the last time on July 9. But ESA has been unable to reach the lander since then, igniting fears that it was dislodged from its original position by blasts of gas or dust and is receiving less sunlight than before.
"In the telemetry received, we have observed signs that Philae could have moved and that its antennas are thus perhaps more concealed or their orientation might have changed," said Ulamec.
The latest data also indicated that two transmission units aren't working properly and a receiver was damaged, which in conjunction with the lander's silence caused ESA to label its status as "uncertain." ESA is currently trying to evaluate the situation, but while they may move Rosetta in order to more easily establish a line of communication, they have no plans to move the lander itself.