European Space Agency’s comet lander Philae made history on Nov. 12, 2014, when it performed humanity’s first touchdown on a moving comet. But the landing was rather bumpy, and the probe ended up in a dim-lit region of the space rock where its solar batteries couldn’t be recharged.
The mission team hoped that as comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko moved closer to the sun the situation would change. Yet, no miracle happened as of now, and mission control lost any hope of reviving Philae lander.
The probe operated only 60 hours before going into the dark. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) recently announced that the temperatures on the comet are too frigid to allow the robotic probe to restart. Plus, the agency is concerned that the probe’s solar panels would be covered in dust, so chances for them to get enough sunlight to start the machine are minimal.
Stephan Ulamec, head of the mission team at DLR, said that the center won’t beam any other commands to Philae because chances of contacting it are ‘almost zero.’
Though Philae looks completely useless now, it did provide scientists with images of the dusty comet in the first minutes after its landing. Snapshots showed that the probe landed on an uncharted location at an awkward angle.
Still, Philae managed to perform several scientific experiments before going dark. Its mothership Rosetta spacecraft, which has ferried it to the comet, reestablished contact but only for a short time. Rosetta is still orbiting the speeding comet from a safe distance.
The last successful attempt to reestablish contact was in early July, 2015. But since then Philae has been shrouded in an absolute radio silence. Unfortunately, comet 67P has reached some colder regions of its orbit, where temperatures can sink to minus 292 F (-180 C), which the probe was not designed to withstand.
DLR said that a signal from Philae is highly unlikely, but even if a miracle did happen it would be ‘very surprising.’ Engineers are concerned that extreme temperatures may take their toll on the Philae’s more sensitive onboard equipment including its computer and the device it uses to communicate.
The mission control team doesn’t know yet why Philae doesn’t respond anymore to commands. It might be covered in a thick layer of dust, or it might have changed position, preventing the antenna from being operational. Controllers could move Rosetta closer to the tiny robot, but they are concerned that the unpredictable gravitational field caused by the uneven shape of 67P could pose a risk to the mothership.
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