Philae Gets Lost in Space, Falls Silent Once Again

Monday, 20 July 2015 - 1:38PM
Astronomy
Philae/Rosetta
ESA
Monday, 20 July 2015 - 1:38PM
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.

Opening quote
"The profile of how strongly the sun is falling on which panels has changed from June to July, and this does not seem to be explained by the course of the seasons on the comet alone," said Philae project manager Stephan Ulamec.
Closing quote


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.

"At the moment, we don't move it, because we don't want to irritate it," said German Aerospace Center spokeswoman Manuela Braun. "We want to understand the situation before changing anything which might result in a worse situation."
 
There are many complications to Philae's current situation, including the fact that Rosetta has just entered an even further orbit after its navigation system experienced some glitches while streams of dust were emitted from the comet. But, even so, ESA insists that they have "not given up" on Philae:

Opening quote
"There have been several times when we feared that the lander would not switch back on, but it has repeatedly taught us otherwise," said Ulamec.
Closing quote
Science
Space
Astronomy
Philae/Rosetta
ESA

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