The continuing adventures of our favorite lander, Philae
For an unmanned set of sensors the size of a small refrigerator, the Philae lander has had us on the edge of our seats for months. Starting with the initial 10-year route taken by the Rosetta satellite to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the literal ups and downs of the lander’s rough arrival on the comet’s surface, and then hopeful but sad sign-off as the lander went into hibernation all felt like segments of a grand adventure series, complete with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. Would they reach the comet?! Would the lander make it? Is Philae lost forever?! Fortunately, this latest installment, even if it’s simply a small teaser, feels pretty uplifting by comparison: Philae has successfully called home for the first time in seven months.
On June 13th, Philae established a weak but consistent radio link with Rosetta for 85 seconds. The conversation was basically Philae dumping stored log data, but what we’ve received of it all sounds good. It’s unclear when it was first recorded, as the lander may have had enough power to record some data before this message was successfully transmitted, but key points like a rising internal temperature (up to -5ºC!) is what mission controllers want to see.
Planning for Philae’s future
Philae’s awakening wasn’t assured, but it wasn’t completely surprising. Comet 67P is on a course to move closer and closer to the Sun, and the hope was that that course would lead to increasing amounts of daylight hitting the lander’s solar panels and charging its batteries. In anticipation of this, Rosetta will be moved to a location that will hopefully allow for easier communication with Philae, and new instructions will be sent for further experiments and measurements. For now, those measurements will be with more passive sensors only, as activities like drilling for samples would demand too much power, but much can be still be learned this way, even in unplanned situations.
Even as Philae wakes up and continues its scientific mission, there are still chapters to be written concerning the lander’s misadventures. To start, it would be great if we could determine exactly where the poor thing actually landed, as the exact location is still unknown. So stay tuned, fellow readers, for the next exciting chapter as it unfolds…
My first grader says: I really like this one! It makes me happy!
See? It’s so easy to feel sentimental about this whole thing. She also refers to Philae as “he” and Rosetta as “she.” Hopefully somebody’s working on securing the rights to this story for a kids movie right now.
Source: Philae Wake-Up Triggers Intense Planning, ESA Operations