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Comet Lander Philae in the Dark But Doing Better

Nov 15, 2014 09:37 PM EST
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Following the historic news that the European Space Agency's (ESA) Philae lander had successfully deployed from the Rosetta spacecraft to alight on the surface of a comet, it was revealed that technical difficulties had caused it to land in a far darker spot than intended, potentially ruining its chances at an extended mission. Now it has been discovered that the lander is doing better than anticipated, but is still in the dark.

"After being out of communication visibility with the lander since 09:58 GMT / 10:58 CET on Friday, Rosetta regained contact with Philae at 22:19 GMT /23:19 CET last night," the ESA reported today. "The signal was initially intermittent, but quickly stabilized and remained very good until 00:36 GMT / 01:36 CET this morning."

In that time, the lander relayed all of its self-diagnostics, as well as science data from the primary mission, which has been performed with its now-drained primary battery.

"It has been a huge success, the whole team is delighted," Stephan Ulamec, lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Agency, said in a statement. "Despite the unplanned series of three touchdowns, all of our instruments could be operated and now it's time to see what we've got."

The received data includes preliminary data on samples from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's surface. This was collected with a 10 inch drill, which had been hastily deployed despite concerns that it might push Philae off the surface and into space.

Instead, the drill helped the lander rotate to expose more of its solar paneling to the limited sunlight it can receive.

This may help the lander recharge its exhausted battery, even with a mere 1.5 hours of sunlight each 12 hour day on the comet. The intended landing zone, for comparison, offered nearly seven hours of sunlight.

"We still hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when we are nearer to the Sun, that we might have enough solar illumination to wake up the lander and re-establish communication, " added Ulmac.

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