Tags: philae | lander | dead | comet

Philae Lander: Dead, or Just Injured on Warmed-Up Comet?

Image: Philae Lander: Dead, or Just Injured on Warmed-Up Comet?
Signals like these received at German Aerospace Centre from Philae lander have disappeared. (Reuters)

By    |   Wednesday, 22 Jul 2015 08:52 AM

The Philae lander that touched down on a comet in November has been uncommunicative for nearly two weeks, and space scientists are now worried contact may be permanently lost.

According to The Independent (UK), scientists at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) last received a signal from the dishwasher-sized probe on July 9. On that day, a command to initiate its magnetometer and plasma monitor instruments sent from Earth fell on deaf ears.

One possibility scientists are considering is that gasses and debris sloughing off of the comet could have bumped Philae into a new, obscured position. This is increasingly likely as the comet orbits closer to the sun, and warms up.

"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 project leader Stephen Ulamec.

Another possibility is that "one of the lander's two radio receiver units is damaged and that one of the transmitter units is not fully functional," DLR reported Monday. "However, Philae is programmed to switch back and forth between the two transmitters periodically," wrote the engineers.

After landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November, Philae unexpectedly bounced into a shadow — a shadow cast either by a crater or outcropping. In any case, it didn't receive as much sunlight as expected, which meant its solar panels took a while to gather enough power for the mission.

It finally gathered enough sun-power by June, at which time it "woke up" and the world celebrated.

It has consistently sent back measurements and other data since — up until July 9, that is.

If Philae ended up in another shadow, that could also account for the lack of communication.

"There have been several times when we feared that the lander would not switch back on, but it has repeatedly taught us otherwise," an optimistic Ulamec concluded this week.

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The Philae lander that touched down on a comet in November has been uncommunicative for nearly two weeks, and space scientists are now worried contact may be permanently lost.
philae, lander, dead, comet
317
2015-52-22
Wednesday, 22 Jul 2015 08:52 AM
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